Even though it is difficult to admit, we have unconscious biases that influence our interactions and decisions. If we do not check those biases, organizational leaders and HR professionals might create unintended outcomes in the workplace.
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, no one has been able to explain why the company prefers “younger” consultants. People who have worked there said that its the company’s hiring policy, but they couldn’t explain its emphasis on age.
I felt excluded.
I know that there are other cases like mine, and I’m concerned about the number of people who get unintentionally discriminated against through job postings. Why should we allow our biases toward age, disability, sexual orientation, race, color, national origin, gender, or religion reflect in our job postings?
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 can lead me to learn more about any company I find interesting.
I’ve also learned that word choices can determine the diversity of a company’s talent pool. So, if a company’s goal is to create a diverse and inclusive workforce, it’s important to attract diverse candidates 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 jargon. Using descriptors like “M&A,” “KPI,” “P&L,” “KSA,” “Blue Sky Thinker,” “Culture Evangelist,” “Bleeding Edge,” 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 for the job.
- 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 any gender can display those traits. I’d say that gender coding has contributed to gender inequality in the workplace. 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. So when you’re writing job postings, be sure to check for gender-coded language. For example, this Gender Decoder tool helps to identify gender-coded words in 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—where men can exert power and not show emotions, and vice versa for women. 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. It’s best to list the criteria that are essential for the job. For example, it would be considered a necessary duty for an airline’s Gate Service Agent to lift bags or items weighing between 50 and 70 pounds. Otherwise, stating such a requirement when it isn’t necessary, can exclude candidates with physical disabilities from applying to the job. Also, avoid using words like “able-bodied,” “healthy,” “young,” or “single/married.” Such descriptions can exclude people belonging to specific demographic groups.
- List employment benefits and perks: When advertising a position, it can 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 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 is using. Ensure that the system is user-friendly, and the application procedure is easy for candidates to follow. Job applications should not be a test of tech-savviness. A complicated job application procedure 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 aligns with their inclusivity goals. 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, equity, and inclusion.
What is your experience with job postings?