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Inclusive Language in the Recruiting Process


The language you use during your recruiting process can make a powerful impression on potential applicants. Word choice matters—it communicates the culture and values of your company, giving candidates an idea of what to expect as an employee. When you make a genuine effort to embrace inclusive language, you can create a welcoming atmosphere that may attract a wider range of candidates.

Attracting a diverse range of applicants provides you with equally diverse hiring opportunities. Every candidate brings different perspectives, backgrounds, experiences and points of view with them. If you limit your recruiting efforts to a small range of candidates, you’re also limiting your chances of finding the right talent for your needs.

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Inclusive language definition

Inclusive language avoids words and sayings that exclude or discriminate against certain groups of people. It’s an impartial way of expressing ideas. Inclusivity involves removing bias and demonstrating respect for all potential applicants.

Why does inclusive language matter?

Inclusive language creates a sense of safety. It lets people from all walks of life know that your company is a place they can be themselves without worrying that doing so will impact their ability to belong and build relationships.

Inclusivity may also benefit your bottom line. When you commit to an inclusive culture, you open your company up to a world of exciting potential job candidates. Research from McKinsey shows that diverse companies are 25% more profitable than nondiverse businesses. Simply put, leveraging the various experiences and perspectives of a diverse and inclusive team may effectively help you outperform competitors.

It takes work to make recruiting materials more inclusive. The process requires you to challenge your own implicit biases and be open to other perspectives. Sometimes, it’s simply about awareness; you might not realize that an expression is discriminatory or rooted in a negative past.

As you make the transition to using inclusive language, start with these parts of the recruiting and hiring process:

Gendered language

When it comes to inclusive language, gender is a great place to start. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to remove gendered language from your hiring process.

  • Pronouns: Avoid using “he” or “she” pronouns when talking about candidates or describing your preferred candidate unless they have specified those as preferred pronouns. Instead, try using “they” as a singular pronoun. Another option is to address materials directly to the person using “you.”
  • Job titles: Historically, job titles have defaulted to male forms: mailman, fireman and salesman, for example. For inclusive language, try mail carrier, firefighter and sales associate.
  • Gender-coded words: Make all applicants feel welcome by avoiding words that are historically associated with a particular gender. Words like “aggressive” and “driven” may communicate a bias toward a male candidate, while “empathetic” and “nurturing” can indicate a preference for a female.

Age bias

Age is an often-overlooked aspect of diversity, but it’s one that may have significant benefits for your business. Employees in a range of age groups can bring vastly different perspectives and experiences to the table.

To make people of all ages feel comfortable applying for a job, avoid words that communicate a preferred age range. “Digital native” is one example; since that term is often used in connection with young people, an older applicant might read the post and decide not to apply. A better option is to use phrasing such as “familiar with emerging social media platforms” or “willing to complete training in new technologies.” These phrases communicate the same qualities, but they could easily apply to anyone.

Other terms to avoid are:

  • Recent college graduate
  • Young company
  • Youthful
  • Young professionals
  • Go-getter
  • High energy
  • Tech-savvy

Avoiding age bias isn’t just a best practice for inclusivity, it may also help your company avert claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA).

Race, ethnicity and religion

It’s not just problematic to ask about a candidate’s race, ethnicity or religion. Some phrases that might subtly communicate discrimination in these areas also include:

  • Native English speaker
  • Share our Catholic values
  • Adhere to professional dress code
  • Graduated from top tier/Ivy League university
  • Clean-shaven
  • Neat, professional appearance

Qualifications and experience

Job descriptions can be a minefield of non-inclusive language, particularly when it comes to qualifications and experience. Consider these tips to make your job postings more inclusive.

  • Don’t list a top limit for years of experience: Instead of requesting that candidates have 5-7 years of experience, you might ask for a minimum of five years. That way, you won’t exclude people with a longer career history.
  • Avoid specifying a career history: The right candidate for your job opening might come from a different industry or position. A more inclusive option is to list the skills and types of experience the position requires, such as “managing a large budget” or “supervising a department.”
  • Don’t make education a hard requirement: Making specific educational history and degrees a hard requirement can prevent the right candidate from applying to the job opening. While some careers and positions certainly require a formal education, you should ask yourself if a degree is necessary for someone to succeed in the position you’re looking to fill.
  • Differentiate between required and desired qualifications: This strategy may encourage a wider range of candidates to apply, even if they don’t fit the profile fully. The “required” list should include only the nonnegotiable skills, certifications, or experience that the candidate must have on day one. Everything else can go on the “desired” list. If you’re willing to train the new employee in a specific skill, mention that too.


Some companies see jargon as a way to weed out candidates during the hiring process. In reality, insider language may alienate people who don’t have the same understanding of acronyms and terminology. That doesn’t mean they’re not a high quality candidate—their past employers might simply have used different terms.

When your goal is to be more inclusive, using simple language is always better. Before you use an acronym, spell out the phrase first. “Applicant should have experience with customer relationship management (CRM) programs” is more inclusive than, “Applicant should have experience with CRMs.”


An inclusive recruitment process encourages people of all abilities to apply. A good starting point is to clarify that your company will make “reasonable accommodations.” This is a simple way to communicate that you’re willing to make changes to help each person achieve their goals during the hiring and employment process.

As you write job descriptions, consider how you describe roles and responsibilities that require physical effort or movement. For example, if you need an employee who can travel around the city to meet vendors and clients, you might say “access to reliable in-town transportation” instead of “able to drive.” Instead of “ability to lift 30 pounds,” you might say, “ability to move loads of up to 30 pounds.”

In general, it’s preferable to use language that puts the person first. For example: say “person with disabilities” instead of “disabled person” and “person with diabetes” instead of “diabetic.” Words to avoid include “handicapped,” “wheelchair-bound” and “disabled.”

Inclusive language best practices

When it comes to inclusive language, you don’t know until you know—in other words, you may not always get it right. If you aren’t sure about a word or phrase, use these best practices to guide your language selection:

  • Don’t make assumptions about applicants: If you’re uncertain about factors like gender, marital status, sexual orientation, background, age, religion or ethnicity, don’t guess. Instead, use words that cover all possibilities. If a male applicant mentions that he’s married, for example, don’t ask about his wife; say “spouse” or “partner.”
  • Choose simple, neutral words: In recruiting, it never hurts to err on the side of caution. Does a phrase seem like it might show preference for a specific gender? Pick a different one. Not sure if applicants will understand a technical term? Explain it in simpler words.
  • Respect people’s reactions: Different groups of people can have vastly different experiences with certain expressions and sayings. If someone expresses discomfort or offense about a phrase, take them at their word. Even if it sounds innocuous to you, it might have deep, painful associations for someone else.

Supporting inclusive language in recruiting

Once you make the effort to switch to inclusive language, make sure that all the elements of your recruiting process communicate a similar message.

Some ways to reinforce inclusive language in recruiting include:

  • Creating accessible materials
  • Showcasing diversity in your marketing materials; use actual employees rather than stock photos, if possible
  • Creating and publishing an official diversity and inclusion policy
  • Training recruiters, interviewers, hiring managers and employees in inclusive language and practices

When inclusive language is supported by your company’s materials, behavior and policies, it can help you create an atmosphere that encourages all types of people to apply.

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