How to use inclusive language in job descriptions

Published by:
Dan Gates
September 16, 2019
min read

Any recruiter worth their salt knows the importance of a diverse workforce. As we’ve mentioned in previous articles, inclusivity has benefits on both innovation and a company's bottom line. Techniques such as blind hiring are known to help eliminate bias in reviewing candidates. However, to truly tackle the problem, companies need to assess whether they’re attracting a diverse pool of candidates in the first place. This requires an assessment of job descriptions, and what language is being used.

How are you choosing your words?

Our backgrounds and personal experiences, as well as our exposure to certain social structures, all inform our perceptions of others. When creating job descriptions, every manager has their own concept of the ‘perfect’ candidate. This creates an unconscious bias that becomes evident in how we use certain words.

An article on gendered wording in job advertisements in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reinforces this. The general consensus is that ‘women are perceived as more communal and interpersonally oriented than men, whereas men are more readily attributed with traits associated with leadership and agency’. Putting it bluntly, the stereotype persists that women are too emotional or sensitive to thrive in certain corporate worlds. 

How many job adverts have you come across that use words such as ‘ambitious’, ‘determined’, or ‘assertive’? Will the ideal candidate help ‘dominate a competitive marketplace?’ These kinds of words and phrases are more likely to appeal to men. These gendered connotations are not innate. Instead, they are the result of socially conditioned conceptions about gender.

The issue goes beyond gender politics. One of our recent articles on ageism in the workplace showed how job descriptions can highlight a bias towards younger people. Take the following terms: enthusiastic, go-getter, eager to learn. They may all seem benign at first. However, they all implicitly exclude older members of the workforce.

Interestingly enough, this particular problem cuts both ways. For example, many organisations have the same variation of corporate jargon. Most people roll their eyes at acronyms like KPIs, SLAs, etc. People with a couple of years under their belt may find these irritating at the very least. However, recent graduates or younger candidates, in general can be put off applying for jobs in fear that they aren’t ‘in the know.’

These younger candidates will often have experience meeting deadlines and performance benchmarks. They may be looking for someone to educate them and nurture their potential. Companies won't benefit from what they have to offer if they’re too intimidated to apply. Therefore, lose the corporate terms and focus instead on what they actually represent. This will cater to those who have the raw skills and attributes to flourish in the role.

How many requirements are essential?

It is common practice to break down job requirements into two categories: ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’. This can help identify standout candidates early in the hiring process. However, certain people will be deterred from applying if they don’t think they are a shoo-in. Studies have consistently shown, for example, that women are much less likely to apply for jobs unless they meet 100% of the criteria. In comparison, white men will often throw their hat into the ring even when they only have 60% of the qualifications.

What we need to remember is that managers are seeking not only the ideal person for the role but for the team as a whole. There is often a stark difference between who looks the best on paper, and who will fit the position long-term. Some key traits can only be identified in the interview process. These include communication skills, reliability, and emotional intelligence.

Of course, you want to find the best candidate possible. However, you may want to try softening these categories of ‘essential’ or ‘desirable’. For example, instead of saying ‘desirable’, you could try something like ‘bonus points for’. In the hard and fast world of recruitment, this may come off a little wishy-washy. Nevertheless, if you’re struggling to attract a diverse range of candidates, it’s a tactic that could yield surprising results.

How Applied can help with inclusive language in the workplace

It is unlikely that unconscious bias can be eliminated entirely. Fortunately, technology can intervene where human psychology falls short. At Applied, we create software that helps remove the influence of unconscious bias from the hiring process.

For example, our gender decoder helps companies improve diversity through the neutral language of their job descriptions and improve conversion rates by measuring factors such as readability. This tool will help create succinct, compelling job descriptions to attract a varied pool of applicants. Why not try it for free? Alternatively, if you want to find out more about the Applied suite of products, you can request a demo today to make hiring smarter, faster and fairer.