8 Biased Language Examples to Steer Clear of

Biased language examples are used everywhere, from television ads to brand slogans. Yet, perhaps its most worrying usage is in the recruitment industry.

As you might know, I’ve already covered unconscious bias and diversity and inclusion best practices on the AdBuilder blog.

Today, we’re bringing these topics together and sinking our teeth into the complex world of language bias. 🧛🏻‍♂️🩸

Together, we’ll discover what language bias is, how it impacts recruitment, and how you can avoid it.


What’s the Meaning of Biased Language?

“Many times, we do not intend to exclude or offend others by the words we choose. We may simply lack information about and sensitivity to certain words or phrases. Being aware and mindful of our language, both written and oral, can help create a supportive and inclusive climate.” – Michigan State University, Guidelines for Communicating in a Diverse Community

Whether we mean to or not, words have an impact.

Our words can mean the difference between the most qualified candidate sitting down and applying for the job and scrolling past the advert altogether.

What is Biased Language?

Like people, biased language (or words) come in all shapes and sizes, each with its origins.

Some biased words are rooted in racism and tradition, like the ‘Master’ and ‘Slave’ terminology still commonly used in coding to denote one process controlled by another.

In July 2020, Apple committed to replacing this terminology in favour of non-racially loaded terms like Primary/Secondary.

It seems simple enough to see that this phrasing is insensitive and unnecessary, but when you’re stuck in a habit, it’s easy to stop examining it. 🧐

Similarly, biased words can be exclusionary in context without necessarily standing out as negative on their own.

Think about how a woman might feel reading ‘best man for the job’, or how an older person might be right for a role but feel excluded by terms like ‘recent graduate’ and ‘digital native’.

In the simplest of terms, biased words make certain candidates feel out of the loop, unincluded and unaccounted for.

And if you’re trying to recruit the best person for the job? That’s pretty much the EXACT opposite of what you’re going for.

How Can You Avoid Using Biased Language?

Learning how to avoid biased language means unlearning old habits that aren’t serving your recruitment process anymore.

When you do that, you ensure that the most talented candidates can access roles, and you can build a more diverse workforce. As proven by McKinsey three times over, the business case for diversity is strong.

At AdBuilder, we’ve developed a system to help you do just that. It’s called AdGrader, and it will allow employers and recruiters to evaluate how inclusive their job adverts really are. 🌈

Language Bias Falls into Multiple Categories

There are six main biased language categories, into which most instances of recruitment language bias fall.

Race and Ethnicity

Language bias in the field of race and ethnicity happens in several ways:

🛑    Recruiters and employers are actively racists, and present this in their job advertising language.

🛑    Recruiters and employers are passively racist, and present this subtly in their job adverts, often using micro-aggressive language.

🛑    Recruiters and employers aren’t being actively anti-racist, and this appears in their language via archaic uses of terms that make people of colour uncomfortable.

Regardless of intention, the result is the same. Qualified candidates walk away from job adverts without submitting applications. If you don’t want that to happen, don’t let it.

Create a quality job advert in 10 minutes free and clear of ambiguous or potentially problematic terminology with AdBuilder


Similarly, gendered and sexist language can massively damage your chances of connecting a qualified female candidate with a suitable job role.

Across almost every level of job, adverts are biased towards men. That includes job titles like Chief, Lead, Manager, Senior and Junior.

Traditional gender roles seep into every part of our society, including the recruitment sector. So, if you’re committed to providing equal opportunities, you’ll need to battle back against that built-in bias.


Though sexuality comes up less frequently in job adverts than gender or race might tend to, it’s important that if you are going to mention the LGBTQ+ spectrum, you do it correctly.

Biased regressive language around sexuality can massively damage the quality of your job advert.

It can dishearten and exclude not just those in the community, but supportive allies unwilling to enter a potentially discriminatory workplace.


For people with disabilities, one of the hardest parts of job hunting is battling against the misconceptions and assumptions commonly made about the disabled.

Even the well-meaning can come across as condescending and infantilising, which is the last thing that most disabled people want.

Thankfully, the disability employment gap reduced between 2013 and 2019, reaching an employment rate of 53.2%.

With the help of supportive, inclusive employers, and unbiased language that reflects this inclusivity, the gap can continue to shrink over time. 💗


The biggest thing that separates working-class job seekers in the UK from their middle and upper-class counterparts?


And this lack of confidence hasn’t just appeared out of nowhere. It comes from an unconscious bias that can seep into recruitment via:

Roles that strictly require candidates to have a driving licence and a car – Particularly when public transport links exist nearby or it isn’t truly essential for the role.

Roles that strictly require candidates to have a driving licence and a car – Particularly when public transport links exist nearby or it isn’t truly essential for the role.

Roles that strictly require candidates to have a driving licence and a car – Particularly when public transport links exist nearby or it isn’t truly essential for the role.


The final common category of biased language is ageist language.

Like the language that makes disabled people feel unwelcome and small, ageism in job adverts makes assumptions about older people or leaves them out altogether.

As I mentioned above, terms like ‘digital native’ unnecessarily write older people off.

Your life doesn’t end at 40 or 50, on a personal or professional level. So why do so many job adverts feel targeted to a younger audience?

Examples of Biased Language to Avoid in Job Adverts

Biased sentences and phrases crop up more than you might expect in job adverts. But at AdBuilder, we’re here to help you weed your listings and root out potentially micro-aggressive and biased language. ☘️🌿🌱

8 Language Bias Examples

1. ‘Coloured’ People

The term ‘coloured people’ is a form of racial language bias. The phrase is outdated and considered to be incorrect or offensive for a few key reasons:

It categorises various races into one term

It’s a painful reminder of segregation

It has been weaponised and widely used by racists

Language is fluid, and intention doesn’t always match up with perception. If you’re not a racist person or business, using antiquated phrases like this one is likely to put certain candidates off and present the perception that you could be.

2. ‘Digital Native’ 📸

A preference expressed in a job advert for a ‘digital native’ could be considered ageism. The term means a person native to technology, brought up during the digital age.

It comes with an implication that an older person couldn’t possibly be tech-savvy. They couldn’t possibly be able to handle the technological demands of the given role. For many older people, this isn’t the case at all.

This assumption is particularly limiting post-COVID, given that many older people (even retirees!) turned to tech and successfully utilised it to stay connected with friends and family during the pandemic.

3. ‘Confined to’ a Wheelchair

I think we can break down the issue with this phrasing pretty quickly if we simply look up the dictionary definition of ‘confined’.

Confined =

– Limited

– Restricted

– Unable to leave

– Trapped in a small space

Phrasing the experience of a wheelchair user so negatively is degrading, and as an able-bodied person, referring to a physically disabled person as ‘confined’ is a sure-fire way to overstep the mark.

Gravity keeps us on earth, but how often do you hear people telling others that they’re ‘confined’ to the planet? 🌏

When you use emotive terms, you put feelings into the picture without allowing wheelchair users to articulate their own unique, individual experiences of disability.

Surely, they should be the only ones to determine whether or not they feel limited or trapped?

4. ‘Chairman’, ‘Man the Stockroom’, ‘Mankind’ 🤦‍♂️

Again, this one should be pretty obvious, but it’s an easy slip of the keyboard to use gendered language in your job adverts.

Gender-neutral language choices might be harder to grasp, but swapping ‘man’ for ‘person’ should be a fairly easy fix.

“In many ways, language both reflects and creates the gender inequalities that exist in society. How we speak affects how we think and how we interpret the world around us. So, as we are working to reimagine our defaults around gender and build a more socially conscious and inclusive culture, we also need to reckon with language.” – Javier Hirschfield

5. ‘Peanut Gallery’ 🥜

Though a pretty niche term, ‘peanut gallery’ is a great example of subtle classism in action.

It harkens back to the once prevailing attitude that the majority (or in other words, the working class) were less intelligent and less able to think critically than the minority (or in other words, the upper class).

In the 19th century, the peanut gallery was today’s equivalent of the cheap seats where underprivileged theatregoers would launch peanuts (sold at the theatre) at performers they didn’t enjoy. 🎭

The idea of a ‘peanut gallery’ has become a racist and classist caricature of the lower class.

Skip the nuts. You’re not a squirrel!

6. ‘Spirit Animal’ 🐶

You might run into (or consider using) the phrase ‘spirit animal’.

Online in the past few years, ‘spirit animal’ has become a popular way for people to describe something that they deeply identify with and connect to.

Though rooted in appreciation, using the phrase in this context is an over-simplification and a misinterpretation.

The concept of a ‘spirit animal’ comes from Indigenous culture, and it’s been watered down by popular culture to the extent that it’s now a harmful, culturally appropriative thing to say, often contributing to misconceptions about Native people.

7. ‘He Or She’ ⚧

Not every person exists within the gender binary of male or female.

In the modern workplace, plenty of people identify as genderfluid or agender, meaning that phrases like ‘he or she’ and ‘ladies and gentlemen’ don’t apply.

If you want to create a job advert that’s truly inclusive and free of biased language, you’ll need to get comfortable using they/them/their pronouns.

8. ‘Homosexual’ 🏳️‍🌈

Generally speaking, the American Psychological Association recommends that terms like ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ be used over terms like ‘homosexual’.

Why? Because the word has a history, feels more ambiguous, and tends to depersonalise the people being spoken about.

In a job advert, should sexual orientation even come up (as it might in a diversity-supporting statement), the word ‘homosexual’ would feel like a very scientific and distant choice.

Think of it like this – which of the following questions sounds better to you, and less potentially loaded with judgement:

  1. Are you a homosexual?
  2. Are you gay?

Unbiased Language Options

Replacing your language choices with unbiased alternatives can be as simple as breaking out the thesaurus (and listening to the expressed preferences of marginalised groups).

On a deeper level, the switch to an unbiased and welcoming way of communicating can take time, effort and brain re-training.

Start that process today with AdGrader. Acknowledging when and where you’re going wrong in your job adverts is the first step to making diverse and inclusive improvements.

Biased Words Distract and Divert Talented Candidates

In today’s world, biased language stands out. And not in a good way. It’s distracting and off-putting.

Whether you’re an employer or a recruiter, you want a candidate pool best placed to do the job. Not a candidate pool impacted by unconscious bias and poorly chosen language.

Want to make your job adverts stand out and shine for all the right reasons? ✨

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James Ball
Written by James Ball

James is the founder and owner of AdBuilder and a recruitment expert from Sutton Coldfield in the UK.  He regularly advises companies on how to improve and get the maximum ROI from their recruitment processes and advertising.

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