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17.01.2023 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI)

How to write inclusive job descriptions

How to write inclusive job descriptions

The job description is often the first touchpoint between you and your candidate. With the right kind of writing, you can directly demonstrate to potential talent that you’re committed to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace for all.

A job description that is inclusive not only helps attract a more diverse pool of applicants, but also helps create a better, more fair working environment.

By being mindful of the wording you use and the information you include, you can write job descriptions that are free of (unconscious) bias and don’t stop qualified candidates from applying.

Want to find out how? Here are a few tips to help you write an inclusive job description.

The importance of inclusive job descriptions

Most organisations – including all Fortune 100 companies – are conscious of and actively working on improving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.

In the past years, companies have increasingly invested time and resources into making the shift to a better labour force for everyone a reality, and that’s great. But not just because it’s the right thing to do.

Consider these stats:

No wonder doubling down on DEI is on our list of top recruiting trends for 2024! And your job descriptions play an important role in achieving this.

Inclusive job descriptions show candidates from day one that your company values diversity, equity, and inclusion. Without them, you may struggle to attract new talent, even if your company embodies inclusivity and diversity.

Luckily, by following a few simple steps when creating a job description, you can ensure your job ads don’t accidentally exclude qualified talent.

10 ways to make your job descriptions more inclusive

You might already know of some steps to make your job descriptions more inclusive, such as avoiding gendered language (he/she) or adding a sentence to say that you welcome applications from people of all backgrounds.

But there’s more to creating inclusive job descriptions. Here are 10 tips on how to write inclusive job descriptions.

1. Steer clear of gendered language

As mentioned, perhaps the most obvious and well-known way of writing inclusively in your job descriptions is to avoid the use of gendered language.

For starters, instead of using words like “he” or “she”, use gender-neutral terms like “they” or “the candidate”. An even better approach is to just address your candidates directly by using “you”.

Moreover, you should also avoid using gendered words for job titles. For example, don’t say “salesman” or “waitress”, but instead, use gender-neutral terms like “salesperson” or “server”.

2. Avoid further gender coding

Avoiding clearly gendered language as described above is a great first step. But there are more ways gender seeps into language use.

Gender coding in writing refers to the use of language, grammar, and style that are associated with a particular gender. Whereas gendered language clearly refers to a certain gender, gender-coded language is more subtle and, often, subconscious.

For instance, using words and phrases that are traditionally associated with masculinity, such as assertive language or technical jargon, may be considered gender coding. In general, it refers to the use of language and style that reinforces traditional gender stereotypes and roles.

If your job description asks for a candidate to be “assertive”, “competitive”, or “ambitious” – traditionally traits associated with masculinity – you may alienate a candidate who does not identify as a man.

That’s why it’s important to be mindful of what the language you use in your job description might imply.

3. Avoid biased buzzwords, jargon, and general vagueness

You should also avoid terms that might (unconsciously) imply a specific type of person and exclude others.

For example, if you ask for a “rock star”, many people will automatically imagine a white male rather than a woman of colour. The same goes for other seemingly harmless terms like “guru” or “ninja”.

Similarly, including industry- or even company-specific jargon inside your job descriptions may also make them less inclusive. What does it really mean when you ask for a “hacker” or a “self-starter”, for example?

In general, try to avoid any vagueness in the language you use in your job descriptions. An inclusive job description is one that’s clearly worded.

Note that this includes avoiding acronyms like SLAs or P&L. Someone who wants to switch jobs might possess all the skills needed to learn the job, but not be aware (yet) of all such terms. Stuffing your job description with jargon like that can unintentionally scare off qualified candidates.

4. Avoid ableist language

As defined by Access Living, “ableism is the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior”. And this attitude is (subconsciously) reinforced by the language people use.

For example, adding “must be able to lift 20 kilos” to the requirements may seem reasonable when the job description is for a position in Construction. But this implies that the candidate has to be physically able to lift that much, while in many cases there is equipment available that can do the lifting for a person.

So, a more inclusive job description would say: “moves equipment weighing up to 20 kilos”. Similarly, don’t say it’s required that someone can “easily talk to people”, but rather that they “are good at communicating with others” (albeit speaking, writing, etc.).

To make your job description even more inclusive, include specific information about accommodations you provide to support people in their jobs. Let candidates know that accommodations for people with disabilities or specific needs can be made during the hiring process and on the job.

Lastly, don’t just highlight employee benefits like the company football or volleyball teams or the gym memberships you offer as this, too, may deter some potential candidates from applying. More about benefits to include and exclude further below.

5. Avoid ethnic or cultural discrimination

Similar to gender bias, you should avoid the use of any racial or cultural bias in your writing. To keep your job descriptions inclusive, ensure you never mention anything regarding ethnic or cultural background.

Furthermore, ensure that you only ask for skills and experience that are required to perform the role (also see point 8) and that doesn’t discriminate. For example, a common mistake recruiters and hiring managers make is putting “English native speaker” as a requirement.

The fact that someone is an English native speaker doesn’t instantly make them an expert in everything English. For example, a non-native speaker who studied English and lived in an English-speaking country most of their life might be much more qualified than a native speaker who never had an affinity with the language.

Furthermore, avoid mentioning clothing requirements or other aspects of a person’s visual appearance and expression that are not absolutely essential to perform the job.

6. Be mindful of affinity or experience bias

This bias tends to occur when a hiring manager or recruiter shares a certain experience or background with a candidate, and this leads to influencing their hiring decisions further down the interview process.

However, the way your job description is written can cause the same principle to already invite some candidates to apply more than others.

Consider the example we mentioned earlier about only highlighting fitness-related benefits. Chances are, the writer of the job description highlighted these benefits because they themselves are interested in them. The job description, in turn, is more likely to attract like-minded candidates, leading to affinity bias.

Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer these benefits, but rather be mindful of not just highlighting one type of benefit. We highlight some more inclusive benefits under point 9.

7. Don’t let ageism creep in

We’ve already come across a few (unconscious) biases that might prevent your job description from being inclusive.

Another common example is ageism, or the bias towards people of a certain age. This could stem from a fear of hiring older employees (due to age-related prejudice) or the idea that young talent doesn’t have enough experience.

In many cases, it unconsciously seeps into the words and phrases used in the job ad or the benefits that are highlighted.

Some common phrases to avoid in your inclusive job ads:

  • “Work hard, play hard”
  • “Vibrant and energetic”
  • “Young start-up atmosphere”
  • “3 to 5 years of experience”
  • “Digital native”

8. Only ask for the skills you actually need

We saw some mention of this in the previous points, but this is to emphasise how important it is to only ask for the skills and experience a candidate needs to successfully perform the role.

Is that university degree you’re asking for really necessary? Do a certain number of years of experience ensure they are good at the role you’re hiring for? Does it matter if they live in the city where you’re based for them to perform at their best?

In most cases, the answer will be “no”.

Check out our article: Hiring for roles vs. hiring for skills

9. Emphasise relevant policies, benefits, and programs

Instead of highlighting skills and experience that aren’t essential, use that space in your job description to highlight the policies, benefits, and programs that showcase your commitment to inclusivity.

For example, you may offer some great benefits to support working mothers (bonus points if you add paternity leave as well). Or perhaps your company has several employee resource groups to ensure inclusivity in your company.

Highlighting these policies shows potential candidates that you take diversity, equity, and inclusion seriously.

10. Add your DEI statement

Lastly, following from the previous point, a great inclusive job description also includes a DEI statement. This is a (short) paragraph included in every job ad, expressing your company’s commitment to actively promoting DEI in the workplace.

Your DEI statement should ideally highlight your company’s mission, vision, and/or values, and how this ties in with DEI in your workplace.

Towards a better workplace

Although relatively simple to implement, following these simple guidelines to make your job descriptions more inclusive can have a powerful impact on your recruiting efforts and the talent you attract. For more tips to power up your fair recruitment efforts, check out our diversity, equity, and inclusion resources.

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