The biology of business language: do your words need more balance?

The best businesses are always evolving. But is unconscious gender-bias holding your business back, asks Hannah Moffatt of The Writer


If you want your species to survive, you need a diverse gene pool. That’s just basic biology. I think the same is true with businesses, especially when it comes to culture and language.

Yet the recent rise of gender-bias-spotting tools, like Textio, has shown that businesses often recruit to – and create cultures that favour – particular ‘types’ without being consciously aware of it.


Why are we stuck in the 1950s?

Textio specifically looks at recruitment ads, and pinpoints words or phrases which have, historically, attracted more male or more female candidates. Admittedly, the results alone are fairly depressing – painting men as soldiers who want to lead, tackle and challenge, and women as mothers who want to love, nurture and collaborate. It appears our collective subconscious is still stuck in the 1950s.

This isn’t about gender equality, though: there will be plenty of men out there who want to nurture and women who want to lead. It’s about making sure your business has the diversity within it to survive.


It’s about culture, not just changing job ads

Swapping one word for another in a job ad isn’t the answer.

Instead, businesses should think about where they see themselves going in the next five to ten years. The chances are, they’ll need more than one type of person and one type of working style to get there. And if they want to attract different kinds of people, or customers, they’ll probably need a different kind of language.

This is where AI tools need to stand down. Textio can show you where the unconscious biases in your business lie, but it can’t tell you how to shape your culture.

Your brand, however, can.


How does your business ‘sound’?

Do you have a ‘tone of voice’ or language guidelines to define how your business should sound? If you do, but you’re not using them, or they’re not attracting the right kinds of candidates, it might be time for a refresh.

The language you, and everyone else in your business, use shapes your culture. Is it inclusive? Is it bold? Does it ask questions? These are all things that can change the way your people think about problems and work with each other.

Your language can even act as a filter when you’re recruiting: attracting candidates who have the skills and mindset you need, while gently putting off those who don’t. The trick is to make sure you’ve got the right filters – ones you’ve consciously considered, that focus on attitude or skills, rather than gender.

Get this balance right and you’ll attract and keep the people your business needs to survive now, and thrive in the future.

About the author

Hannah Moffatt is creative director at The Writer, the world’s largest language consultancy. Over the last four years she’s trained thousands of writers to get their words working harder, and is particularly interested in the language of HR and corporate culture. So when she’s not on the road you’ll usually find her curled up with books about neuroscience, nudge theory and culture change. (If you’ve got any good recommendations, send them her way.)

Author: Editorial Team

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