Best Practices for Writing Inclusive Job Descriptions

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The goal when hiring for an open position should be finding the best person for the job. However, many companies shut the door on what could be some of their most qualified applicants by using non-inclusive language in the ads they create, which we talked about in our previous post. If you aren’t practicing awareness and inclusivity in your hiring ads, you could be missing out on the candidate who could take a team or department to the next level.

55% of candidates view job descriptions as one of the main things that can clarify whether a company is a good fit for them, and 67% of candidates want to join a diverse team.

Attracting top talent goes beyond listing pay ranges and benefits packages. To achieve true inclusivity and diversity in the workplace, consider the following when writing job or career ads for your organization:

Racial Diversity

Make it clear at the onset you aren’t attempting to fill quotas, but instead promote diversity as powerful and positive. Companies that hire diversely benefit in many ways, including growth and financial returns.

  • Use imagery for your company and brand that are diverse. People don’t want to work in an environment where they worry that they may be discriminated against and first impressions of your employer branding can make a huge difference in how it is perceived.
  • Specifically, seek to fill positions that relate to communities of color with employees who can bring their personal perspective and life experience to bear. Expand where you post your job listings to niche and inclusive job boards and personalize your messaging to members of that community.
  • Unconscious bias and racism can sneak in if you use language that excludes instead of includes. “Native English speakers only” can lead to disregarding candidates with perfect English fluency because of skin color, name, or current country of residence. Use “Fluent in U.S. (or Canadian, British, or Australian) English” instead.

Gender Inclusivity

Talent is talent, irrespective of gender presentation. Make sure you aren’t making your ad unwittingly hostile to women, non-binary, or non-gender-specific or agender persons by using gendered language.

  • When describing your ideal candidate, use “they” language rather than gendered pronouns like “he” or “she.” This helps to avoid creating a mental image of an “acceptable” candidate, and also leaves the door open for those who don’t have a specific gender presentation. Likewise, highlight key areas that can be obstacles to persons who don’t present according to traditional binary expectations. Mention your gender-neutral bathrooms and that your dress code is non-gender-specific. Avoid saying “working moms” and use “working parents.”
  • Avoid nouns that have gendered connotations, like “unicorn” (typically understood as feminine) and “hacker” (usually viewed as masculine.) When Buffer changed a single word in their job descriptions (replacing “hacker” with “developer”), they saw the number of female applicants jump from 2% to 11%, significantly increasing the diversity and revealing talent from applicants who previously would not have applied.  Avoid descriptors that indicate “bro” culture, such as “rock star,” “god,” “magician,” “power broker,” and “killer instincts.” Instead, identify actual qualities you want in employees and work culture, such as “motivated,” “intuitive,” “adaptable,” “creative,” “dedicated,” and “focused.”

Education and Qualification Requirements

Think about your “would-likes” instead of listing them as “must-haves” – especially if you want to hire diversely. Men will apply for a job even if they tick only 60% of the boxes, while women often won’t apply unless they meet 100% of the “requirements”.

  • Make one list of requirements, carefully considering each one. “Fluency in Spanish” might be a must-have, but a “four-year degree in communications” might not be as critical as you think. Make a separate list for abilities or knowledge that could be valuable, but that could also be learned on the job for the right candidate. For specific sectors, hiring new, inexperienced talent and providing them an opportunity to learn as they work is even more practical; for example, employees only two years into an IT career can be expected to have received 90% of their most up-to-date working knowledge from on-the-job training rather than their degree.
  • Confidence in ability is essential, but many eminently qualified people would never refer to themselves as a genius, a wizard, a guru, or even an expert. State that you are looking for someone who is “well informed on the topic of X,” or “experienced with using Y,” rather than superlatives that don’t really mean anything. Don’t shy away from diverse, early-career hires.
  • Think about what you highlight as perks of the job, and how they appeal to different demographics. Basic financial incentives and flexible scheduling might appeal to specific demographics, while paid sick days or family leave, and the quality of the benefits package might appeal to others. Failing to list a broad range of perks could leave an applicant feeling like their needs and wants aren’t a priority, or that they aren’t what you are looking for.

Age Inclusivity

Particularly in technological fields, ads tend to be exclusionary when it comes to people over the age of 30. This encourages the false assumption that more mature people are incapable of staying abreast of the latest developments in tech and analytics.

  • Exclude language like “tech-savvy,” and “culture fit.” Try “digital citizen” (someone who lives and operates in the digital world) instead of “digital native” (someone who was born into it). Only use “entry-level” as it pertains to entry-level pay scale.  Another common mistake is using words like “conservative” to mean someone with an outdated viewpoint, or “progressive” to assume a respondent will be from a younger generation.
  • Watch for words like “hip” or “pop-savvy” as they are typically used to mean “current generation” but could be irrelevant when speaking to someone’s knowledge of (for example) popular television shows or music icons. Conversely, not all fans of legendary greats are older – 60-70% of Elton John and Prince fans are under 34 years of age.

Ableness Diversity

The United States elected and re-elected a President who utilized a wheelchair. Differing levels of ability should not be a consideration in the hiring process. Make sure applicants know you are entirely on board not only with legally mandated accessibility but with providing whatever they need to do their job.

  • Use the words “accessible” and “accessibility” to describe the workplace. Include this language discussing parking, entrances, floor levels, elevators, and bathrooms to let persons who use various mobility aids know they are welcomed and supported.
  • Include language that is inclusive of people with varying degrees of sight, hearing, and communication pathways. State your inclusivity and non-discrimination policies upfront – and proudly; not hidden at the end in fine print, as a legally required afterthought.
  • If your workplace can offer workstations or rooms suitable for persons with varying sensory processing capabilities, include this in your workplace description. Use language like “quiet workspace available” or “relaxation room on site for our neurodiverse talent.”

Appearance Inclusivity

Don’t miss out on one of the best programmers or sales representatives in the field because of a zero-tolerance policy on hair length, tattoos, or other appearance obstacles.

  • Many potential employees will skip job listings if they feel their personal appearance will disqualify them. Make it clear body modifications such as tattoos and piercings are not a dealbreaker for your organization.
  • Hair length, style, and optional coverings are deeply personal and potentially faith-based. Clarify that hair as well as clothing choice and presentation are solely the purview of the individual, and will not be controlled by your organization.

Being aware of each sentence you write and asking yourself, “Would this unjustly make anyone feel unqualified or unwelcome?” is a great start to writing inclusive job descriptions.