The subtle ways tech job listings exclude women and minorities

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It's no secret the tech industry is largely white and male. Anyone who doesn't "fit the mold" faces challenges, from recruitment to the hiring process and throughout their careers. It's no wonder Silicon Valley has an atrocious attrition rate.

What people seldom talk about is how discrimination begins before applicants even get through the door. In some cases, job listings are peppered with exclusionary language that might not be clear at first glance. 

If being labeled a "hacker" won't sink your future job prospects, expect to see some "dope" job listings with more details on the "hustle" than the health care. If you get hired, expect to "get crunk" once a month (or risk being a poor "culture fit").

Here are a few other hidden red flags to look out for:

Beware the job titles "hacker," "ninja" and "rock star."

Job listing for Palantir Technologies Palantir Technologies/Lever

Silicon Valley is filled with job listings for "hackers," "ninjas" and "rock stars," which usually just refer to coders and developers. A LinkedIn spokesperson told Mic there are around 1,700 jobs for "hackers" globally and roughly 900 in the United States.

What's the problem? These terms are rooted in brogrammer culture — a term that surfaced in the mid-aughts to signal a certain type of pointedly heterosexual male engineer. It's symbolic of a cliquey, homogenous work environment. 

The term "hacker" may exude coolness for a white person, but as Sarah Mei, chief consultant at DevMynd Software, pointed out in a Twitter thread about a job posting from Y Combinator for a "hacker," the term could carry a personal risk for people of color.

Y Combinator job listing for "hacker" Y Combinator/Lever

"If you look at [the term 'hacker'] from an official government point of view, it's a negative thing — a discouraging sign for anyone who is here on a visa or for anyone who does a lot of international travel," Mei said in an interview.

"I could probably get away with saying I'm a hacker as a white person," she added, "but it's very difficult to know if that's something you can get away with as a person of color."

Here's what phrases like "hustle" really mean.

Job description for an engineering position Seeds/AngelList

Words like "hustle" and "passion" can signal a company is looking for someone with a lot of free time — and, as Mei pointed out on Twitter, this can allude to an individual who doesn't have to take care of children or extended family, or someone who may have a chronic illness.

Job descriptions highlighting the need for someone who can dedicate all their time and energy to the position often subtly exclude women and older individuals.

Watch out for language that appropriates racially coded slang.

Y Combinator job listing from 2011 Sarah Mei/JoinDiaspora

"Crunk." "Dope." "Hustle." Notice a pattern here?

Project Include's Y-Vonne Hutchinson told Mic she now sees another type of exclusion: the co-opting of traditionally black or urban language in an effort for companies to seem cool.

But when predominantly white organizations adopt certain colloquialisms to sound hip and edgy, they're also likely to penalize individuals from these groups for using them.

"People from the dominant group — white people — can use those words and it's considered cool," Hutchinson said. "But if somebody actually from that group used those words," they're deemed to "have 'poor communication style.' There is a lot of privilege at play with that language."

Pay attention to what's not listed — for example, health care benefits.

"Benefits are always a red flag for me," Hutchinson said. "If you don't have your health care benefits listed, if you don't have your employee accommodations, what you're doing with people who may have disabilities, what your accommodation in your workspace looks like, if you're not talking about 401(k) and maternity as well as paternity leave ... these are all really sort of red flags."

Tech Ladies, a job board for women in tech, clearly labels what makes a company inclusive for all genders, including tags like "family friendly" and "diversity and inclusion warriors work here" on job listings. They also label organizations with generous maternity and paternity policies. 

"Even if you don't have kids or never plan on having kids, respecting families shows that you respect women and their contributions to your workforce," Tech Ladies founder and former Google employee Allison Esposito told Mic in an email.

"To me, if you list that you are giving paternity leave, I'm going to think that you probably actually care about gender issues," Jordan Orelli, a developer at Jackbox Games, said in an interview. "That's the big one I look for."

Applicants looking for jobs on Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter and Slack's career pages would find Slack is the only organization with specifics about health benefits right on the company's job page. 

Source: Slack

"Leaving out [benefits] can be construed as a sign that [companies] really want young healthy people and folks without major medical issues or the possibility of acquiring medical issues [such as pregnancy]," Mei said.

What can companies do better?

Tech companies should craft job descriptions in a way that captures the cultural markers they're looking for while eliminating any subtle language that might discourage potential candidates from underrepresented groups from applying in the first place. For example, Hutchinson suggested clearly and specifically articulating what is non-negotiable.

"I know a lot of people enjoy drinking and making friends at work, but overemphasizing 'kegs' or 'happy hours' or 'rooftop drinks' can sometimes feel like it's not a place for working parents, especially moms who statistically shoulder more of the childcare in their households and may need to get home after work to take care of their kids," Esposito said. She added that job postings should also include details that are inclusive for more senior applicants, such as a workday that ends at 5 p.m. 

Orelli noted that detailing a company's commitment to diversity and inclusion on a career page is also important — and that means including more than just the legally obligated equal-opportunity-employment disclaimer. 

"A lot of job descriptions will pay lip service to valuing diversity," Orelli said. "If the team page is all white people, I know that their stated commitment to diversity is not genuine — especially if they have a dog on their team page."