Company culture can’t be forced. It develops organically and is often defined by the individuals and teams who give it life. The same can be said for almost any aspect of an organization, from sales and new business development to diversity and inclusion efforts.
The success of these unique initiatives (and by extension, the success of your organization as a whole) is directly related to the individuals responsible for them, which is why finding the right person for each of your organization’s roles is so important.
Finding the right candidate for the job starts with the right job description.
The right job description is the one that’s written with inclusivity in mind.
Word choice can have a significant impact on a candidate’s perception of the job and whether they apply.
In 2015 the popular social media management platform, Buffer, discovered that less than 2 percent of applicants for their developer positions were women. In trying to understand the overwhelming gender disparity, the firm realized that referring to developers as “hackers,” a historically male-coded word, was a likely culprit.
While there’s more to an organization’s identity than its description in a job listing, a 2018 survey conducted by The Muse, a jobs search platform, found that 55 percent of respondents “consider job descriptions to be among the most helpful things when deciding if a company is a good fit for them.”
By incorporating diversity and inclusion best practices in your hiring process, your company is doing two things:
- Encouraging a full range of diverse and talented candidates to apply for open positions
- Reaffirming your organization’s commitment to building an inclusive workplace
Not surprisingly, a growing body of research suggests that an overall commitment to diversity and inclusion efforts ranks as a top consideration among job applicants. According to a study conducted by the recruitment platform Yello, 64 percent of respondents said that ”a potential employer’s commitment to diversity and inclusion would be an important factor in their decision to accept an offer of employment.”
While a greater emphasis on diverse and inclusive hiring practices might feel new in corporate culture, it’s actually regularly cited as one of the top hiring and recruitment trends to watch). It’s fair to say we’re in the middle of a conversation and movement that’s already well underway.
How to Write More Inclusive Job Descriptions (and Listings)
For most organizations, the journey to writing more inclusive job descriptions begins with understanding which of the “everyday” language choices (the ones many of us take for granted) can leave others feeling excluded or discriminated against.
From gender coding to some of the less-discussed opportunities for improving inclusivity, like recognizing disabilities, here are several key aspects to consider when writing your next job description.
Address Gender Coding
Gender Coding—the decision to rely on words, phrases, or traits that have historically been associated with either the male or female gender—can result in a false impression about who the ideal candidate for the position may be.
A study published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that if a job description is coded too heavily to either gender, it is more likely to result in the exclusion of certain applicants—regardless of the actual skills or qualifications those candidates may have.
A growing number of tools, like this Gender-Bias Decoder by Totaljobs, can help you balance or minimize gender coding in your job descriptions by identifying gendered words in your copy. While these tools may not be perfect, and should not be considered a “fix-all” solution, they can be a great first step.
Understand Age & Experience Bias
In a world and job market where the demand for “digital natives” (a term which inherently excludes those who weren’t born into the age of the internet and social media) is high, it’s important to recognize instances of experience bias and ageism in job descriptions.
This is another example where taking the time to recognize the terms and phrases that are both commonplace, but problematic, is key.
Now that we’ve recognized how such terms as “digital native” may limit or exclude applicants, we can replace it with an inclusive alternative. In this case, it would be reworked in a way that speaks to the actual requirement (i.e. technology skills or knowledge in social media) in a way that doesn’t imply that the ideal candidate is under 30 years of age.
Recognize Cultural & Racial Bias
As a rule and best practice, racially or culturally explicit phrases or requirements should only be present in a job description if they are directly relevant to the position itself. For the majority of job descriptions, they are not and therefore should not be included.
That said, there are instances where word choice can unwittingly leave individuals of a particular cultural background feeling excluded.
Some common examples of this include requirements around dress (e.g. prohibiting hats or head coverings of any kind would exclude candidates whose faiths require them to maintain head coverings) or preferences regarding language abilities (e.g. seeking a “native English speaker” may exclude proficient non-native speakers).
Be Inclusive of Candidates with Disabilities
Ensuring that your listing encourages candidates of all backgrounds and all abilities can feel challenging at first, especially for positions with a variety of physical requirements. Even in instances like these, the solutions often can be found by taking a step back and asking, “What are we looking for as our core requirement?”
As this chart, compiled by the global recruitment and hiring platform Monster, points out, removing the “how” of a requirement (i.e. the “how this is accomplished”) in favor of stating what needs to be accomplished can make a significant difference.
|Discriminatory Language||More Inclusive Language|
|Must be able to lift 50 pounds.||Moves equipment weighing up to 50 pounds.|
|Seeking able-bodied individual.||No replacement. Avoid completely.|
|Bending and crouching under desks to install equipment.||Positions self to install equipment, including under desks.|
|Must be able to stand for entire shift.||Must be able to remain in a stationary position during shift.|
|Talks to students about their financial concerns.||Communicates with students about their financial concerns.|
|Walks throughout the building to access files.||Moves throughout the building to access files.|
|This role requires visually inspecting sites for safety.||This role requires inspection of sites to detect safety concerns.|
At a glance, the differences between “standing in place” and “remaining in a stationary position” or “talking” and “communicating” may seem like small ones. To a potential candidate, it can make a world of difference.
Minimize Corporate Jargon
Most verticals have jargon or terms that are unique to what they do. And in most cases, professionals in those fields learn the meanings and usage for the majority of those terms through experience.
Listings that rely heavily on such phrases tend to exclude a variety of potential candidates including those who may be younger and recently out of school as well as those who may be looking to reenter the workforce or make a career change.
Like many of the considerations on this list, by deliberately choosing words and phrases that aren’t industry-specific when crafting a job description you create a significantly more inclusive opportunity.
Outline Policies & Benefits
Does your company have an official mission statement? How about a stance on diversity and inclusion? What do your benefits packages look like? Do you offer parental leave? Paid family sick leave?
These factors and others like them can play a significant role in determining the diversity of your candidates. Highlighting them in your job descriptions can help speak to your organization’s mission and culture while creating a welcoming opportunity for applicants.
The most inclusive job descriptions are usually the most thoughtful ones.
It should come as no surprise that, more often than not, the most inclusive listings are also the most thoughtful ones. The time, effort, and care that go into writing an inclusive job description are hard to miss—as are the results: diverse teams, inclusive workplaces, and the right candidates in each role.
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