Why write inclusive job descriptions?
From increased retention to improved productivity, the advantages of diversity in the workplace are well established. If your company sees the value and makes diversity and inclusivity a priority, you can take many steps to improve your workplace and change your corporate culture accordingly. However, these efforts are meaningless if you can’t attract diverse candidates. That’s why inclusive job descriptions become vital to the success of your diversity initiative.
Individuals from underrepresented groups may be looking at more than just the details of your job descriptions. Past experiences with discrimination may lead them to study the subtext found in qualifications and desired skills sections. By using diversity language in job descriptions and removing words and phrases that could indicate bias, you can encourage people who fear discrimination to apply. More diversity among applicants then gives your company more opportunities to hire a diverse team.
How to write inclusive job descriptions
Follow these tips to make your job descriptions more inclusive.
Don’t use gender-coded words
You likely know not to use gendered pronouns or words like man or woman in your job descriptions, but gendered language involves more than just overt references to sex. Because of established gender stereotypes, some words are coded male or female. Even if your intention isn’t to attract only female or male candidates, including these words may make it seem like you have a preference.
Male-coded words include:
Female-coded words include:
Do keep language simple
A wordy job description filled with complex phrases could be difficult for neurodivergent people and those who speak English as a second language to read. Here are some complex phrases and some simpler language to substitute for them:
- First and foremost: firstly
- In accordance with: by or under
- In excess of: over or more than
- In order to: to
- In terms of: as or about
- Inasmuch as: because or since
- Liaise with: work with
- Therefore: so
- Whether or not: whether
To make your job descriptions easy to read:
- Define acronyms, even if you think they’re well known.
- Avoid corporate jargon.
- Eliminate idioms and figures of speech.
- Use short sentences.
- Maintain active voice rather than passive.
- Choose a large, easy-to-read font.
- Break text into small chunks with headings.
- Add bullet points where possible.
- Utilize simple formatting, such as H1 and H2 headers or bold text instead of underling or italicizing.
Do be on the lookout for gender and racial bias
Inclusive job descriptions are free of qualifications and skills requirements with implicit and unconscious bias. Scrutinize every point of your descriptions, and ask yourself if they might exclude candidates of a certain gender or race. Be on the lookout for:
- Specific mentions of race or national origin: Phrases like “hard-working Americans” may seem inclusive, but they could exclude people of color and immigrants.
- References to English language skills: Unless a job requires someone to be completely fluent in English, don’t add requirements that suggest strong English language skills or fluency is necessary.
- Policies that may exclude members of certain religious groups: Rethink policies that prohibit facial hair or wearing head coverings, and don’t mention these types of requirements in your job descriptions.
- Computer and software skills requirements: Before including knowledge of various types of software as skills on job descriptions, evaluate if it’s truly necessary. If the program is something that new hires could easily receive training on, consider eliminating the requirement. Women often only apply for jobs they have 100% of the qualifications for and may move on from your job description if they see an unfamiliar program listed. Also, socioeconomic factors may mean candidates from underrepresented groups were never given the opportunity to learn to use certain software, even if they’re more than capable of doing so.
Don’t gear your description to one age group
Recruiting members of Gen Z is one approach to filling open positions in your company, but focusing only on a younger audience can come at the expense of older, more experienced candidates. Avoid using terms like junior or senior in job titles. Eliminate words and phrases that may exclude older adults or paint the picture of a workplace geared exclusively to young team members, such as:
- Digital native
- Party atmosphere
- Recent grads
- Work hard and play hard
Also, watch out for language that excludes younger candidates, such as:
- Your retirement income
Don’t write descriptions only for the able-bodied
Inclusive job descriptions don’t make assumptions about people’s abilities. To encourage individuals with physical and mental disabilities to apply, try using diverse language in job descriptions like:
- Moves instead of walks and lifts when discussing the transportation of heavy objects
- Positions instead of bends or crouches
- Remain stationary instead of sit or stand
- Communicate instead of speak or talk
- Travel instead of drive
- Respond instead of notice, see or spot
- Inspect instead of visual inspection
- Gather information instead of listen
- Ascend or raise instead of climb
- Input or record instead of type
Do call out inclusive benefits
If your company offers benefits that may appeal to diverse candidates, call them out in your job descriptions. Examples include:
- Diversity training programs
- Flexible work schedules
- Giving programs with charity organizations that provide support for underrepresented groups
- Health insurance
- Leave policies
- Mental health resources
- Mentorship programs
- Needs accommodations programs
- Paid time off for religious holidays
- Telework opportunities
- Tuition reimbursement programs
Don’t go with a boilerplate EEO statement
Many companies include an Equal Employment Opportunity statement to demonstrate to job seekers that they comply fully with the rules established by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You can find many simple boilerplate examples of EEO statements online, but resist the urge to use them as a shortcut.
Typically, boilerplate EEO statements come across as legal jargon. Job seekers may not read them at all, or they may seem insincere. Develop an EEO that specifically spells out your commitment to inclusivity and diversity in easy-to-understand language that’s inviting and approachable. Before having your legal team review the statement, run it by members of your HR and management teams to get input from people with differing perspectives.
Do follow your inclusive job descriptions with a fair candidate review process
Inclusive job descriptions can result in a more diverse group of candidates for open positions, but your efforts to have an inclusive hiring process can’t stop there. You also need to ensure that you keep diversity in mind when assessing candidates. To do so:
- Consider blind resumes and interviews: Unconscious bias can be difficult to overcome. One way to combat it is to remove opportunities for it in the first place. With a blind resume review process, you black out all names and information that could indicate a person’s gender, race, religion, age or sexual orientation before the review process begins. This allows decision-makers to focus only on a person’s qualifications and skills. You can also make the interview process blind by asking initial screening questions online. Once you’ve narrowed the pool to a few quality candidates, you can then schedule face-to-face interviews.
- Train hiring managers and HR professionals in inclusivity and diversity: An effective diversity and inclusivity training program can make everyone involved in the hiring process more aware of biases. Ensuring that everyone participates in training can allow for more consistency when reviewing diverse candidates throughout your entire company.
- Ask all candidates the same questions: Using a single set of carefully selected questions for every candidate reduces the risk of bias and ensures all candidates receive equal treatment. Seek input from a diverse range of perspectives when developing questions to catch any that might place members of certain underrepresented groups at a disadvantage.
- Develop a transparent assessment system: Assess all candidates with the same criteria. Develop a rubric or ranking system that’s as objective as possible, and review it carefully for standards that might place underrepresented groups at a disadvantage. Don’t use cultural fit and value alignment as terms for assessment. Focus instead on more concrete data like outputs and outcomes.