Even though it is difficult to admit, we have unconscious biases that influence our interactions and decisions in the workplace. If we do not check those biases, organizational leaders and HR professionals might create unintended outcomes.
A few years ago, I didn’t pursue a career opportunity with a particular consulting company. The reason was this— the job posting clearly stated that candidates must be 26 years old or younger. I wondered how they came up with a random number like 26, but I wasn’t prepared to go through the application process only to get rejected for being older than the age limit. To date, I haven’t gotten substantial answers from friends who work there about why the company prefers “younger” consultants. It’s just a policy, and they cannot explain the emphasis on age!
I felt excluded.
I know that there are other cases like mine, and I’m concerned about the number of people that get unintentionally discriminated against through job postings. Why do we allow our biases toward age, disability, sexual orientation, race, color, national origin, gender, or religion reflect in our job postings? Stop and ponder!
What makes a job posting powerful? Besides providing details about a job, a job posting typically serves as my first touchpoint with many companies. Whether I’m passively or actively looking for new opportunities, a job posting has the power to lead me to learn more about any company I find interesting. I’ve also learned that word choices have the power to determine the diversity of your talent pool. So if a company’s goal is to create a diverse and inclusive workforce, then it’s important to attract diverse candidates by using inclusive language in job postings.
These are a few tips for writing more inclusive job postings:
- Use simple and concise language: When writing job postings, avoid using idioms, slangs, acronyms, technical words, or internal lingo. Using descriptors like “M&A,” “KPI,” “P&L,” “KSA,” “STAR Interview,” “Blue Sky Thinker,” “Evangelist,” “Deep Dive,” “Bleeding Edge,” “Bandwidth,” or “Tiger Team” may confuse and intimidate your audience. Even the most qualified candidates can be discouraged from applying to your company if they cannot understand your job posting. Instead, clearly outline the essential skills and responsibilities and the type of employment.
- Avoid gender-coded language: Gender-coding refers to societal biases about gender. People have commonly assigned certain traits to men versus women, even though we know that anyone can display those traits. Research has shown that masculine words may discourage women from applying to jobs that they may have otherwise liked due to perceptions of belongingness. Even when women are qualified for the job, they tend to opt-out from applying. I believe this has sustained gender inequality in specific roles. When writing job postings, check for gender-coded language. For example, this Gender Decoder tool helps to identify gender-coded words in your job postings. According to Gender Decoder’s guideline, words like “aggressive,” “independent,” or “ambitious” are coded as masculine while words like “supportive,” “empathetic,” or “considerate” are coded as feminine. I believe we owe this to our biases about emotions and power. Also, avoid using gender-coded pronouns such as “he/him” or “she/her.” Instead, use gender-neutral pronouns like “they/them” or words like “you” or “this person” when referring to your ideal candidate.
- Avoid unnecessary job requirements: Certain requirements in job postings can limit the diversity of your talent pool. Only requirements that are essential for performing the job should be listed. For example, it would be considered an essential duty for an airline’s Gate Service Agent to be able to lift bags or items weighing between 50 and 70 pounds. Otherwise, listing physical demands may exclude candidates with different abilities from applying to the job. Also avoid using words like “able-bodied,” “healthy,” “young,” or “single/married.” Unnecessary requirements can exclude people belonging to specific demographic groups.
- List employment benefits and perks: When advertising a position, it might be helpful to list the perks of working at your company. Various employee benefits appeal to a diverse range of candidates. Mini-golf courses and ping-pong tables are to nice-to-have, but they may not appeal to all candidates. However, people commonly consider benefits like flexible schedules, floating holidays, paid parental leaves, paid time off, tuition reimbursement, professional development, domestic partner coverage, or childcare facilities as inclusive benefits. Design a benefits package that is unique to your company’s values and use it to attract diverse talent.
- Application procedure: This depends on the application system that your company uses. Ensure that the application procedure is easy for candidates to follow. Your application procedure should not be a test of tech-savviness! Complicated application steps may discourage certain demographic groups from applying to your company.
A study by Glassdoor shows that 67 percent of active and passive job seekers consider a diverse workforce when evaluating companies and job offers. As companies work toward creating more inclusive workplaces, they should also ensure that the information conveyed in job postings align with their goals of inclusivity. We need job postings to appeal to a diverse range of candidates. Otherwise, we will be allowing our unconscious biases to create systemic barriers for diversity and inclusion.
What are your experiences with job postings?