Documented Disconnect: Gender Bias in Onboarding Technical Documents


William Hart
Lead Region Training Manager, AutoNation


February 6, 2019 - 2:00 PM


February 6, 2019 - 3:00 PM

Documented Disconnect: Gender Bias in Onboarding Technical Documents

Training documents are meant to provide written instruction and act as a reference guide for job functions. This is sometimes the first opportunity for new associates in the automotive industry to understand expectations and learning objectives. But what if new associates felt isolated from these documents because examples and scenarios created a bias of who the ideal employee should be? As instructional designers and training professionals, are we stopping women at the door by creating an onboarding and training experience that indicates a preferred gender within our industry?

In my study, I look at the FAA’s (Federal Aviation Administration) online library for flight instructors and students. Using qualitative and quantitative research to identify gender pronouns within the training documents as well as analysis of illustrations, implied and blatant gender themes emerged. In some cases, gender represented factual information about an expert being cited in the document. In other examples, pronouns were used to identify the gender of pilots, as well as other aviation careers and job titles outside of aviation. I address the common use of the pronoun “he” as a universal pronoun and cite several professional writing associations that recommend changing the language of a document by using a plural noun/pronoun agreement instead of defaulting to a gender pronoun.

This study furthers the understanding of how frames created within training documents may reflect and/or perpetuate stereotypical attitudes toward gender within an industry. As technical writers, we should strive to critically analyze training documents that can isolate and create separation. The ability to identify and remove gender bias from technical documents will help create accessible learning for any student, regardless of the gender and indicate the alignment of companies to hire qualified candidates that mirror the diversity found in the customers base.

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