Inclusion and Equity

Inclusive Job Descriptions

Recently I’ve been helping my partner by keeping my eye open for jobs he might want to apply to. As a result, I’ve been reading more job descriptions in the last few weeks than I have done in the last few years, and it has really reminded me of some stuff that companies could do to make their recruitment process much more welcoming to a diverse pool of applicants. My tweet about it received some attention (which seemed a lot for me but is very drop-in-the-ocean for Twitter at large, it’s not like I went viral or anything) and since I’ve kept thinking about it, I thought I’d outline just a few ways you can make your job description more welcoming to a diverse range of candidates.

I want to acknowledge upfront that a lot of bias in hiring is gendered, but many of the studies focus only on how this relates to men and women. There is very little insight into how it pertains to minority genders. As a genderqueer person myself I know that I’m put off by a wide range of gendered language – male coded language because I am not and have never been a man, and female coded language because I was raised as a woman and resent the effect that has had on my life and how society believes I should live, the kind of jobs it thinks I should be doing, and so on. This is an area where I would love to see more research, but for now, please forgive me for my constant references to male/female bias. I’m trying to operate within the confines of a broken system here. In addition, the “diversity, equity, and inclusion” industry has a long way to go when it comes to studying diversity beyond genders. Anyway, on with the tips!

Eliminate gendered language from your job descriptions

Unfortunately, language is steeped in inherent bias, and using certain words in your job description will have an effect on the candidates who apply. Using male-coded words like “assertive” in your job title can be really offputting to women. Likewise, words like “nurturing” or “empathetic” are offputting to male candidates. There’s a really thorough research study done by Duke University in 2011 that demonstrates that gendered language results in sustained gender inequality. None of this is to say that some women can’t self-identify as competitive or men as collaborative of course, but the research suggests that the bias in this language is enough that it has a measurable effect. Luckily, there’s a nifty tool to scan through job adverts and let you know where there could be some gender-coded language hiding. It should go without saying that job ads should refer to candidates as “they/them” and not specifically he or she.

Don’t advertise for “ninjas” or “rockstars” or “gurus” – avoid ambiguous words

To some people, these trendy words are just a fun way to refer to someone who is at the pinnacle of their career, a master of their craft. However, to others, a ninja might be a violent aggressor, a rockstar could represent someone constantly being in the limelight and leading the show, and a guru might imply a teaching or mentorship role. It will also give people the impression that you hire based on these negative associations. On top of that, they are really opaque terms. Candidates won’t know what you’re actually looking for, and it will really not help your SEO. In the tech industry especially, “rockstar coders” have a pretty negative reputation to a lot of people because it’s used as an excuse to let people get away with being unpleasant, stroppy, and inconsistent. It also devalues so-called “soft skills”. If you’re hiring a data analyst, say that. The social media tool Buffer discussed how describing their developers as “hackers” was having a really detrimental effect on their hiring.

Only list the really essential requirements

Does the entry-level admin position you’re hiring for really need a degree to succeed? I know templates are meant to make life easier and quicker for busy people, but too many job descriptions have a list of “essential requirements” that just don’t make sense. Are you asking back-office staff who never interact with clients to have excellent customer service skills? Or is “must thrive under pressure” giving people the impression that your company is understaffed and can’t manage people’s workloads? This might require a bit of reframing, too – instead of looking for five years of experience, try asking candidates about, for example, the kinds of problems they have solved and challenges they have faced. Don’t discount someone just because they have never held that specific job title before. Find out why they believe they would be a great fit for the job. Men will frequently apply for jobs where they meet only 60% of stated requirements, whereas women will commonly only apply when they meet 100%.

Explicitly call out your commitment to inclusion and diversity

Outright taking the time to let candidates know that this is something you are dedicated to is important, but only if you go beyond the usual “we are an equal opportunities employer…” spiel. Doing things like having and talking about inclusive benefits will help, whereas talking at length about the company beer fridge will attract only a certain kind of applicant. Do you allow working from home and flexible hours? As well as being generally desirable (especially in these pandemic times), these kinds of benefits are extremely important to single parents, disabled people, and those who have caring duties. A study found that as much as 64% of people would consider a commitment to diversity and inclusion an important factor in accepting a new job (you have to sign up to download a PDF with the actual source).

multiple people standing together
I googled for a free-to-use image of “diversity” and am actually pretty annoyed that the results all kind of suck. This picture has no BIPOC folks!? Another had no disabled people. None of them have fat people.

Consider all the implications of what you say

Due to our own biases and privileges, it can be easy to miss the things our words say to others. Take a simple example of “Staff are expected to dress professionally” – to many people, this is the kind of thing that just gets glossed over. To a Black woman, it may throw up memories of times when her natural hair has been called unprofessional and will just make an organisation seem systemically racist. The same thought might occur to a woman who wears a hijab. This is one reason why it’s so important to have a diverse team or to hire a professional to help you understand these kinds of hidden biases.

Indicate the salary band

This is a really important one. Women and minorities are so much less likely to negotiate high salaries than men and are more likely to accept low offers. The gender pay gap is still looming large and this is a key way to fight that. If you could pay more for this salary, say it in the description – don’t keep it aside for only people who can/will negotiate. Some people use a half-hearted method of asking candidates to indicate their current or desired salary. This feeds into the same problem. Pay transparency is a vital trust indicator.

This was a fun post to write, and I got to flex muscles that have been asleep for a long time! I hope you found it useful. Please feel free to post any questions in the comment below, and if you did like it, consider dropping a few quid into my tip jar!

3 replies on “Inclusive Job Descriptions”

Great read. The essential requirements stuff is ridiculous, stop asking for a ludicrous amount of knowledge/skills for your entry level position. I’m not one of the men who will apply for a job if I don’t meet the essential requirements, surely if employers knew the amount of folk who won’t even apply they would think twice about what they include on that.

Anyway this is attempt number 3 to post a comment so apologies if you end up with 3 similar but different comments :p

Thank you! I think the key problem is that people are so frequently overworked that they maybe want fewer applications – but they don’t give enough thought to where they are losing candidates in the funnel.

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