Use of certain phrases like “whatever it takes” or “tackle” in job postings could affect who applies for tech jobs, possibly contributing to the lopsided gender makeup of the industry, new research suggests.

Textio Inc., a Seattle-based software startup that analyzes language in job ads, looked at nearly 25,000 job listings from 10 tech companies, including Uber Technologies Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and Netflix Inc., to quantify commonly used phrases. The job ads appeared between January and November and...

Use of certain phrases like “whatever it takes” or “tackle” in job postings could affect who applies for tech jobs, possibly contributing to the lopsided gender makeup of the industry, new research suggests.

Textio Inc., a Seattle-based software startup that analyzes language in job ads, looked at nearly 25,000 job listings from 10 tech companies, including Uber Technologies Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and Netflix Inc., to quantify commonly used phrases. The job ads appeared between January and November and were posted on sites such as Indeed.com and the companies’ own websites.

Four of the companies analyzed—Apple Inc., Slack Technologies Inc., Twitter Inc. and some divisions at Microsoft Corp.—are Textio clients. For those companies, and its 146 other customers, Textio’s software examines the full text of job postings and recommends changing certain phrases depending on what kind of applicant pool the client is seeking. It then compares the demographic backgrounds of the applicants for the original job postings with those in the modified batch.

As sexual harassment scandals make waves across politics, media and entertainment, the technology industry is grappling with its own sexism problem. Female entrepreneurs and VC partners speak about sexism in Silicon Valley and share their ideas for solving it. Photo/Video: Emily Prapuolenis/The Wall Street Journal

Textio says its findings suggest that certain language correlates to a disproportionate number of male job applicants in a tech industry dominated by white or Asian males. Tech companies including Google and Facebook say they are trying to hire more women and underrepresented minorities. The language in job postings can also be revealing about a company’s culture, says Textio CEO Kieran Snyder.

Ride-sharing company Uber, which has endured a high-profile public reckoning following allegations of sexism and harassment, used “whatever it takes” 30 times more often than the next closest company that was analyzed. The phrase appeared in 13% of Uber’s job listings analyzed by Textio, according to the study. Uber also used the phrase “high performance culture” more often than its peers.

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An Uber spokeswoman said Uber eliminated certain words from many job postings earlier this year that the company deemed weren’t inclusive or created biases.

Making tech more inclusive of minority groups is more complex than using certain words. For instance, Facebook and Apple use language such as “our family” and “empathetic,” which Textio says tends to correlate with a higher proportion of applications from women, more commonly than others in the study. Yet the overall gender snapshot at Facebook and Apple isn’t that different from its peers in the tech industry, where women make up roughly a third of the workforce.

Facebook and Apple declined to comment.

Salesforce.com Inc.’s more-frequent use of the phrase “work hard, play hard” could signal to some prospective applicants that a work-life balance might be hard to strike, said Ms. Snyder.

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“The subtext there is if I’m a parent with children, maybe this isn’t the right place for me,” said Ms. Snyder. Women account for roughly 30% of Salesforce’s workforce.

Salesforce prides itself on “work-life integration,” said a Salesforce spokeswoman. “While we have ambitious goals, we also balance that with a flexible work environment, collaboration rooms, meditation rooms, and generous benefits.”

Textio found certain phrases such as “disciplined” and “tackle,” used more often by Netflix and Google, respectively, statistically correlated to a more male-dominated applicant pool. Netflix didn’t respond to a request for comment and Google declined to comment.

Atlassian Corp. , a maker of workplace collaboration tools and a Textio client, said that after it overhauled the language in its job postings, women accounted for 57% of the class of new-graduate hires working in engineering, product management and design in 2017, compared with 10% two years ago before the language changes.

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Among the changes to a recent ad for a new graduate-level developer: Atlassian removed references to “Ping-Pong” and replaced “driving innovation” with “dreaming up innovative new features.” Aubrey Blanche, Atlassian’s global head of diversity and inclusion, said Ping-Pong is tied to stereotypes of “bro culture,” and “’driving’ can come across a bit aggressive.”