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How to avoid inherent bias in your job adverts

The charity sector is a uniquely rewarding place to work, and it’s down to the remarkable, dedicated and super-talented people we have working for us. They are our defining asset and our most valuable resource. 

But though the sector is jam-packed with enthusiastic and passionate employees, we’re insufficiently diverse and it’s holding us back from reaching our full potential. We need a workforce that’s more representative of our communities and our richly diverse population so we’re better at providing the right kind of support—in the ways communities want. We need to end group-think and replace it with diverse leadership teams that can create new solutions to old problems.

So how do we get there?  It starts at the very beginning—the job ad. It’s a key tool in your hiring strategy and a determining factor in the quality of candidates who will apply for a job with you.

If you’re serious about attracting good candidates from a diverse talent pool and from communities currently under-represented in your organisation, then you must avoid inherent bias in your job ads. Here’s how. 


Use gender-neutral language

In recent years, there have been several studies to show how words associated with male or female gender stereotypes can affect who applies for a job. And that by using language in ads that’s more associated with male stereotypes people think that the organisation (or that team) is predominantly male; putting off women. This is particularly important in the charity sector when it comes to job ads for senior management and leadership roles where there’s still a significant gender imbalance

Words associated with male characteristics include:

  • Leader, leadership
  • Competitive
  • Dominant
  • Independent
  • Aggressive
  • Determined
  • Analytical

 Words associated with female characteristics include: 

  • Responsible
  • Dedicated
  • Sociable
  • Conscientious
  • Caring
  • Nurturing

 Once you’re aware of the unconscious bias in your language,  you can translate your ads so they feature more gender-neutral words. Text tools like Textio or Gender Decoder can help you with this.

Bear in mind too that studies show men will apply for jobs where they’re confident they can do roughly 60% of what’s needed. Women tend only to apply for a job when they’re confident they can do 100% of what’s needed. Yes, it’s a sweeping generalisation but it’s something to consider when looking at your ad to see if it will work hard enough for you. 


Eliminate age bias

And it’s not just gender you need to consider. Often, organisations try too hard to attract fresh, young talent. But what about the more mature talent pool? Examples of phrases that can exclude older people include: ‘a young team’, ‘digital native’, ‘bubbly self-starter’.

‘Entry level’ can also be an unhelpful way of describing the level of the role. A more inclusive way of encouraging people of all ages and backgrounds to apply is to say that no specific experience is needed. This, in comparison, doesn’t imply you need to be starting out in your career.


Don’t demand candidates come with more than just the skills required

A manager can spend hours honing and crafting a beautifully worded job ad that would leave Bill Gates worrying that he didn’t have what it takes for the role.

Make sure that the skills you’re asking for are what’s strictly needed for this job and be realistic—bearing in mind that as an employer you should take on some responsibility for getting the successful candidate up to speed in the specifics of the role.

Don’t include technical or in-house language and don’t include ’nice to haves’ that frankly show you’re too lazy or too over-stretched to invest in an appropriate level of on-the-job training. 


Open to every type of person? Show it

Include an equal opportunities statement on all of your job ads that’s a truthful expression of your values, not just a ‘cut and pasted’ default statement. It needs to be thoughtful and use positive language. Prospective candidates will measure your organisation by this. 

Here’s an example from Google

‘At Google, we don’t just accept difference — we celebrate it, we support it, and we thrive on it for the benefit of our employees, our products, and our community. Google is proud to be an equal opportunity workplace and is an affirmative action employer.’ 

Make it clear that you will welcome applications from people with disabilities and from a wide range of candidates, including those with criminal convictions



Think hard about where you’re going to place this ad so that it reaches a wider demographic. Consider school and college leavers, care leavers and people who’ve been in the criminal justice system. Include deprived areas where young people may have no idea of the type of roles that available in charities and consider the job boards that will reach these groups. 

You need to do things differently if you want a different result. Reviewing your job ad and stripping it of inherent bias is a key first step towards the open recruitment practices that can create a diverse and inclusive workforce.

It’s also how you ensure your ads are an accurate reflection of your ‘brand’ and your charity’s values.

We can help too. Get in touch with CharityJob for more information on recruitment best-practice. 

Further information

This content was provided by NCVO Trusted Supplier,  CharityJob, the largest and most specialised job board for the charity and not-for-profit sector in the UK. 


Page last edited Oct 08, 2020 History

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