Take the Gender Challenge – now with neutral pronouns

On our About page we have a quick thought experiment challenging the visitor to take a moment and think about the preconceived gender biases they may have, using our CEO’s story as an example. We have received a message from the other side of the Globe concerning this thought experiment. As the writer of the message points out, it refers to the unknown agent as “she/he” throughout the text, and they advise us to change it to “s/he/they”. It’s great that our vision is resonating globally. We can see that we are addressing a very important topic that people can relate to. 

We had hoped that from the context in which our thought experiment is embedded, it would be clear why we had chosen a binary approach – it’s simply because of the precedent set by the Harvard Implicit Association Test featured on our product page. In the light of all this, we’re happy about the discussion. If people are pointing it out and interpreting it as us reinforcing binary thinking, then we’d be fools to disregard the feedback.

English third person pronouns today

Unfortunately, the alternative “s/he/they” is just as problematic as using “she/he”. “S/he/they” reinforces another system that is similarly rigid, positing non-binary gender identities as “the rest”. This is problematic, as it excludes a wide array of other existing third person pronouns, instead of creating a truly gender-neutral space.

The use of singular “they” itself has been a bit of a topic of controversy lately in other languages as well, especially as more and more prominent people come out to say that they wish to be referred to as “they/them”. The reason for the controversy is that there’s an odd tendency for pushback against using “they” to refer to a single person. I say odd because singular “they” has in fact been around for centuries to refer to a person whose gender was unknown or undisclosed. But somewhere along the way we have defaulted to “he” when talking about the default human being – especially in formal and professional contexts. 

This in itself has quite problematic implications. The use of “he” when we mean “random human” makes it so that we picture men as the default human being. Picturing men as the default fails to account for more than half of our planet’s population. Interestingly enough, though, the practice is now so ingrained in us that we even default to “he” to refer to the hypothetical leader when writing about gender bias in leadership

So why not “she/he” then?

Because when we refer to the hypothetical human being as “she/he” (or any variation thereof), we are still excluding quite a few people. And as we have mentioned above, “s/he/they” is not the perfect solution either. You might have guessed by now that the most inclusive alternative is the singular “they” instead. It encompasses any and all genders, as it has for centuries, binary and non-binary alike. 

But, of course, language is never quite as straightforward as that. “They” is still largely associated with the male default in English. There are a lot of psychological, sociological and linguistic reasons for that, all of them interconnecting in complicated ways. It may partly be because of a number of various reasons. First, its interchangeability with the default “he”. Second, the presence of a general androcentrism (i.e. the idea that men are representative of humankind) in English. And third, the lack of focused effort to promote gender-inclusion and neutrality with it.  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t catch up on that work now. The discussions around it might serve the purpose of re-introducing it with an emphasis on gender-neutrality. 

They all the way

All in all, using only “they” as an umbrella pronoun for unknown genders or default humans is the most inclusive alternative the English language has to offer at this moment in time. Though of course we shouldn’t discard the potential benefits of introducing a whole new gender-neutral pronoun in the future. Normalising the use of the singular “they” by bringing it back into fashion ignoring those who loudly oppose it might in time broaden our horizons – introducing the gender-neutral “hen” did wonders in Sweden! 

Appreciating the feedback and the conversation around the topic, we have of course decided to go with “they” instead of “she/he” in our own thought experiment, despite our initial reasons for settling on the latter. First because regardless of the context, the old version of the thought experiment did cement itself in a binary thinking, and that is not a message that we have intended to send. And second, because the work of promoting the singular “they” is another aspect of genuine inclusion, whose potential effects cannot and should not be underestimated.

You can take the improved gender challenge on our About page and test the ways language influences your assumptions!

Take the gender challenge!

Microsoft takes a first step towards supporting their users in promoting inclusion

Microsoft Ideas promises to check your writing for explicit gender bias

With its new feature, Ideas, Microsoft is tackling explicit linguistic gender biases that are still present in our culture and language, such as saying “policemen” when referring to a group of police officers, some of whom may or may not be women. This is a great and important step towards ensuring that your everyday communication is as gender-neutral as possible, and we applaud Microsoft for helping people take the first step towards writing in a more inclusive manner.

Does that mean you can just write inclusive job ads and company communication with Ideas from now on? … Not exactly.

So what’s the difference between Ideas (Microsoft) and the DD-scan? 

There are plenty. Ideas will help you avoid explicitly excluding people based on their gender, but it won’t have a measurable effect on your talent attraction and employee retention. This is because the Word extension doesn’t take the following major principles that the DD-scan was built upon into consideration.

  1. Context matters
  2. Implicit bias weighs more
  3. Gender isn’t the source of all stereotyping

We elaborate on these points a bit more below.

1. Word usage depends greatly on context

From the start, our solution has been designed to keep the user’s end goal in mind — which is to address everyone equally with the company’s communication material. 

Using a software that was specifically created with context in mind is vastly different from using an extension that flags gendered language regardless of purpose. A novel describing the protagonist as a “competitive and ambitious woman” is very different from a job ad looking for a “competitive and ambitious team player”.

2. Implicit bias is what really matters when it comes to human behaviour and perception

The phrasings that are flagged in the new Word extension are nothing new. We as a society have been talking about avoiding explicit gender bias when generalising large groups of people (e.g. chairman – chair, fireman – firefighter etc.) for years, and it’s high time the most influential writing program of our time took a practical step to stand with the trend. 

The DD-scan, in addition to flagging gender bias on this basic explicit level, also highlights implicit bias based on psychological and behavioural measures, optimised for the context of external communication between companies and prospective employees. By implicit bias we mean psychologically complex biases deeply ingrained in our society and thus in our language that are almost impossible to detect but that affect the reader in a substantial, and more importantly, unconscious manner.

This means that our solution digs deeper into the perception of a workplace by potential employees based on the phrasing present in that piece of communication in not just simply gendered nouns, but across all word classes. Most importantly, the DD-scan offers inclusive alternatives that have been proven to significantly affect potential candidates’ feeling of belonging and intention to apply. 

Inclusive language in action.

We’ve written about this before, if you’re interested in how it works, check out our blog post about mosh pits — no, really. 

3. Gender is not the only bias out there

A final difference we highlight is that we extend to two more stereotypes, currently flagging age and ethnicity bias in addition to gender, and are working on detecting additional ones in the coming months, to help organisations evolve into genuinely inclusive workplaces and make sure all their employees feel that sense of belonging. Stay tuned to hear more about that!

Together into a more inclusive future!

We’re happy that Microsoft is taking a step towards inclusion, and we hope that Ideas will do its fair share in spreading awareness.

We’re also very excited about our contribution towards normalising diversity and inclusion – as shown by our latest results with our customers. Contact us through our contact form or at contact@developdiverse.com to receive our case study report in your inbox!

If you’re interested in finding out how the DD-scan can expand your talent pool with more qualified and diverse applicants, please write to us at contact@developdiverse.com and we will organise a live demo for you!

On the unique hiring challenges, start-ups face – part 2

Read part 1 here

The term affinity bias refers to us automatically preferring people who are like ourselves in certain qualities – they have the same hobbies, they like the same movies, cook the same food… When face to face with such a person, we automatically feel a kinship and think of them as more trustworthy. This can have a huge effect on hiring new people, especially for people who have little to no experience in the field of hiring and recruitment.

Why is that a bad thing?  

More than a company in any other phase, start-ups rely on inexpensive innovation and fast problem-solving. And that means teams have to be able to look at issues and questions from as many points of view as possible using as little resources as possible. The best way to examine problems from many sides is to make sure that you have a broad spectrum of natural perspectives and for that, yes you guessed it, you need a diverse team.

Photo by Frederick Medina on Unsplash

But don’t just take our word for it. Read about the experiences of Kjartan Slette, COO and co-founder of Unacast, about how hiring copies of themselves almost cost them the future of the company and about the efforts they put into building a diverse and inclusive workspace.

Today, if you want your business to be successful, you have to be able to be adaptable and creative to keep up with a market that changes at an ever increasing pace with the affluent demographics shifting continuously and rapidly. One of the best ways to keep up with the needs of the market is to have that market properly represented on your team.

Practical steps you can take

It all starts with hiring diverse talent, making sure you invite them to apply to your job listings. There are several ways to do that, of course, but one of the most efficient ways is to check and de-bias your job ads with the DD-scan. We currently offer a 14 day free trial and assistance to set up and carry out your own pilot to best estimate the benefits our inclusive writing solution can bring to your organisation.

However, diversity without inclusion means nothing. To help with that facet, we offer inclusion trainings in the form of workshops (contact us at contact@developdiverse.com to find out more) and we also recently compiled an amazing list of practical tips and tricks for an inclusive workplace in collaboration with The Hub.

The most important thing, as always, is to keep an open mind to learning new things — because when you genuinely dive into the world of Diversity and Inclusion, you’ll learn something new about yourself, your fellow humans and respect every day.

On the unique hiring challenges, start-ups face – part 1

At the end of the day, people need to be motivated in ways that are not financial, and you cannot leave that to chance.

Every company relies heavily on finding the right talent when it comes to hiring. That’s the whole point of meticulous hiring processes and interviews, isn’t it? You want the best-suited person for the job, just like everybody else out there. But while the additional costs in hiring are very much undesirable for larger companies, hiring the wrong person can be a devastating financial blow for start-ups.

Start-ups are in the early stage of their development and therefore rely on finding the exact right talent more than anyone else out there. When you’re a CEO to a team of ten people, there’s absolutely no room for being unsure about your employee’s talent and skills. Every minute spent on work needs to be spent wisely and with complete ownership on your employee’s part. 

So how do you make sure you get the right talent?

Contrary to many people’s first instinct, “sniping” for a detailed skill set will not solve this problem. In fact, it might only make things worse. “Sniping” for talent often delivers unexpected and undesirable results even if you get applicants who fulfil the requirements. See, the people you hire that way will want to be compensated in accordance with their expertise and skill set, and rightfully so. But if you’re a company at the very beginning of your journey, chances are you cannot compete with the salary a big corporation would be able to offer them. Of course, you know and communicate the potential – the more and faster the company grows the better the salary will get. But you as a CEO might have a better idea about how long that might take than the person who might’ve never worked at a start-up before. At the end of the day, people need to be motivated in ways that are not financial, and you cannot leave that to chance.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Do you have to sacrifice talent for passion? 

Of course not. You need people with the right skills and enthusiasm about your mission.

You can attract talent that is experienced, skilled while also motivated to propel your company towards a shared vision. In order to find those people, you need to communicate your vision, your mission and your values as clearly as possible. If you engage in “talent sniping” you will drown out the message with an endless list of requirements and tasks the candidate has to read through to check if they should bother applying at all. Minimise the list of required skills to the ones essential for getting the job done and straight up forget about nice-to-haves. Instead, make sure you communicate the values of your company comprehensively, along with your vision and your mission.

I invite you to take a few minutes here and think about these two types of potential candidates: the ones who are motivated solely by salary and the ones who are (also) motivated by the vision and the mission. Which one of those two people will stay in your company long enough to see the growth that brings about more financial stability for both you and your employees? Which one of those two groups will be more motivated to deliver quality work?

In other words, which one of the two will you most likely not have to lose money on replacing in four months?

Read part 2 here

Develop Diverse is one of the best impact startups in the Nordics

We just got this inspiring news from the Norrsken Foundation, a Swedish impact investor:

“Develop Diverse is within #theimpact100. That means you’re one of the best Nordic Impact Startups, building a business to solve societal and environmental problems!
In other words, what you are doing is pretty amazing and something that we want to celebrate and share with as many as possible.”

The Norrsken Foundation has prepared a personal drum solo to celebrate us and our work – thank you!

Develop Diverse

We are continuously working on making the field of hiring a more equal landscape for everyone. We achieve this by helping companies attract the right talent by creating more inclusion for people of all genders regardless of age, skin colour, disabilities or where they come from. Our key to achieving this? Change the language, change the mentality, change society.

The Norrsken Foundation acknowledging and celebrating our work this way fills us with even more determination and energy to make workplaces a more inclusive environment for everyone!

Join us on our journey and try our tool with the new improved engine for free for 14 days here!

Equality instead of flowers

Happy International Women’s Day!

Our planet revolved around the sun another time, and it’s International Women’s Day again! Let’s celebrate all women out there, and all that they have achieved and the ways they’re changing the world.

In honour of this day, we decided to compile a list of organisations and initiatives from Denmark and Europe that are committed to supporting women, promoting their efforts and uplifting their voices.

Flowers are nice, too, still. Why not both?

Organisations we are partners with or members of

Universities that have committed to taking steps in partnership with Develop Diverse in order to promote gender equality

Events we have worked with before

Organisations that support and advocate for less privileged groups of women

Migrant women and women of colour in Europe

Queer and transgender women

Further Danish organisations to check out

Thank you for celebrating women, their voices and their successes with us!

If you’re curious about how to make your company’s communication more inviting to women, check out our first tool for job ads, highlighting stereotypic wording and recommending alternatives.

Sign up for a 14-day free trial of our tool here!

Can biased algorithms make the world a better place?

Who hasn’t heard about the latest AI news featuring Amazon’s recruitment algorithm that had to be scrapped for sexist biases flying under the radar? I’m sure you have also read a lot of opinions floating around out there in response, from claiming that the tech only needs a bit of re-calibrating to completely dismissing it as having any sort of potential, or anywhere in between. It has certainly pulled the topic of AI and bias into the limelight. So what can be done about bias in AI?

Wait a second, where does this bias even come from?

Aren’t machines supposed to be neutral by virtue of not being human?

Of course, the problem is quite simple. AI doesn’t just spring into existence thinking on its own. Machine Learning is a fitting term associated for a reason. And just like a child requires material to learn things from, so does a machine. AI therefore inherently and automatically reflects implicit and unconscious bias present in society, including the way we use language. Of course, it does – the machine dutifully learned everything from us, from trends in the output of our society. It’s not the first time bias seeps into our technological advancements without people who drive that innovation noticing at all, much like how it happened with cameras and colour optimisation.

Choices made by machines are not much more objective than choices made by humans

Can we benefit from the presence of bias to fight bias?

Bias and stereotypes are present, whether we like it or not. (And I hope we don’t like it.) But does this simple problem have a simple solution? In a way. Probably not the way you think, though. People are talking about de-biasing algorithms, but how are we supposed to do that when we ourselves are not always aware of the implicit bias lurking in our machine teaching material? The answer is to not focus on the highly problematic task of de-biasing algorithms but instead working with the bias to predict human response.

To sum it all up, awareness is the most potent tool at our disposal when addressing stereotypes and bias in society!

What does this have to do with Develop Diverse?

Adopting this approach enables us to represent how people are thinking about certain concepts and whether or not there’s a bias connected to them. In short, it helps us predict human associations. We’ve been using this knowledge to validate and expand our psycholinguistic framework according to which we classify the different sorts of bias present in our everyday language. This helps us make sure that we deliver the most accurate information on implicit bias to our users.

In light of all this, we would like to invite you to try our tool for free for 14 days. Let’s keep working together to make communication more inclusive and welcoming to everyone from all walks of life!

Where you can meet us in February

Are you interested in hearing from our CEO herself about the technology we use or what we can do for individuals, business and society at large? We’re here to share a quick update with you to let you know where you can meet us this month.

AI Applied – February 7

You still have a chance to grab a ticket for the AI Applied event on the 7th of February! Stay up-to-date about the practical applications of AI as used by the government and companies, and meet with both motivated and enthusiastic start-ups and the most seasoned, well-established companies in the field. Want to find out what IBM and Maersk experts have to say about the applications of AI? Want to listen to how the latest technology is used by newcomers? Come, have a seat with us and find out the answers for yourself.

For more information and to reserve your tickets, follow this link.

AIESEC HR Networking – February 28

If you want to meet fellow professionals in HR and participate in discussions both in smaller and in larger groups, I’m happy to present you the HR Networking event on the 28th of February focusing on Inclusive Action and International Talent Retention. Join us for a lively conversation between specialists and those interested. Share your knowledge and experiences and make new connections with like-minded professionals.

For more details and free early bird tickets, check out the event page!

Diversity is about real people – be mindful of inviting everyone

Diversity in hiring is more than just a buzzword. It is more than a philosophy or a concept or a trend, too. It’s about real people and real companies, it’s about improving the quality of lives, businesses and society in the long run. Fully understanding this, we have set out to collect real-world data about the efficiency of our tool, as providing an empty stamp of diversity approval goes against everything we stand for.

First, let’s take a look at what can make a real change

Let’s say you’re organising a dance party and you want everyone you know from every walk of life to come and spend a fun night with you. You’ve prepared everything: good music, lots of snacks and a good location. And your invitation says:

“Hi, friends! I’m throwing the best party of the century, and you’re invited! I guarantee you’ll have a great time, no matter your taste in music. No snacks needed, everything’s taken care of. Come and join me in the mosh pit”.

On the night of your party, your metal head friends have come to party with you, and a few who are timid but curious – but nobody else. How can this be? You explicitly said everyone was welcome!

Words and phrases in job ads send out implicit messages the same way “mosh pit” creates an image in the reader’s mind of the scene of this party. Similarly, if you’re looking for an “ambitious winner” to join your company’s “work hard play hard” environment, people who read your job ads will imagine a stereotypic group of white businessmen in their early thirties. As a result, anyone who can’t see themselves fit in that team will not come to your party. Most importantly, this effect persists regardless of what kind of inclusivity statement you put in your listing.

Click here to sign up for your 14-day free trial to check the stereotypic words in your job ads

Will changing the language really make a difference?

The question people seem to ask first is whether language really is that important? In cooperation with multiple start-up companies, we set out to test our solution. Lo and behold, with our tool and consultancy services combined, there was an average of 20% boost in female applicants, an increase of 22% in the total number of applicants and as a result, the recruitment time was reduced by 36%.

The work doesn’t end here, of course! Join us on our journey and try the tool for free for 14 days, keep an eye on our blog for news and sign up for our newsletter to always be in the loop!

My TED talk

My personal life and career have been developing greatly, especially in the past two years when I decided to start the entrepreneur journey to make a difference and live the life I wanted. The lesson that helped me the most during this journey was the one taught to me by my mentor Hans. He helped me realize the enormous importance of being authentic, of being myself. This has indeed helped me to be the best version of myself every day since.

Being a TED speaker has been one of my biggest dreams since the very first TED talk I watched. I genuinely enjoy teaching new knowledge and inspiring people. Fortunately, I got the opportunity to be a TED speaker to talk about my journey of becoming a founder, my passion and my company. I hope you enjoy my talk as much as I did that day.

Have you ever imagined that you could have a spell-check for social stereotypes instead of one for grammar? Have you ever wondered if the words you write unconsciously affect your readers negatively? These readers can be your colleagues, current or future employees and even customers. While this can be true, fortunately, we have developed a tool that can help you check for social stereotypes in your written language and help you avoid communicating with the wrong words. Watch the talk for more details and  check out our product page afterwards!


Build an inclusive culture through inclusive communication!