In a hiring market where competition for talent is fierce, companies can't afford to overlook the importance of job ad language.
To make meaningful progress on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, organizations must focus on the beginning of the employee journey and examine the text in their job listings. Recruiters should avoid terms that could turn off female candidates and candidates of color, including language like "rock star" that make most readers picture a white male. Improving job ad language is an important step toward creating an inclusive workplace.
"The more inclusive your job ad is, the more you're likely to attract candidates from all backgrounds," said Judy Ellis, senior vice president of the diversity, equity and inclusion advisory at AMS, a global talent acquisition and consulting firm located in London.
Here's how recruiters can create inclusive job ads.
1. Familiarize yourself with exclusionary words
Certain vocabulary and terms work against attracting a diverse group of candidates.
Addressing gender coding is an important aspect of this.
Organizations should "de-gender" their job ads by removing words like "he" and "her," said Julie Coffman, chief diversity officer at Bain & Company Inc., a global consulting firm located in Boston. She encourages companies to omit pronouns altogether.
"In a gender-fluid society, the use of pronouns is not your friend," Coffman said.
"Expert" is another word companies should avoid because it lacks clarity, she said. One person may identify an individual who has led a 10-member team as an expert, while someone else may define it as a C-suite-level executive responsible for running a 10,000-employee organization.
"It's not as tangible or as concrete as saying, 'I'm looking for someone that has five years of writing at a daily periodical because I feel like that experience would translate into what we're trying to hire for in this magazine,'" Coffman said.
"Rock star" is another commonly used term that compromises inclusion, she said. For many, "rock star" conjures up the image of a white male rather than, for example, a woman of color.
Judy EllisSenior vice president of the diversity, equity and inclusion advisory, AMS
Recruiters should keep in mind that prospective candidates may interpret some adjectives in ways the recruiters didn't intend.
One participant in a focus group of Black and Latino professionals identified the word "excellent" -- in the context of "excellent writing ability" -- as problematic, Ellis said. The participant graduated from university near the top of his class but said that he received a C in English as an undergrad. He assumed that grade wasn't good enough for the organization.
The word excellent, like arguably all adjectives, is vague and subjective.
"[A candidate] may not think of themselves as excellent, even though they might meet the standard of what a company might think of as excellent," she said.
There is also wide variation in how to discuss one's accomplishments. For example, some cultures see claiming excellence as bragging.
2. Omit nonessential job requirements
Whoever is attempting to create inclusive job descriptions must consider what skills are truly necessary for the job they're attempting to fill.
Many organizations fill ads with qualification requirements that are nice-to-haves rather than concrete skills that directly apply to the position, Ellis said. For example, if a job doesn't require someone to have 10 years of experience in the field, then that attribute should not appear in the job ad.
Traditionally, many companies have required college degrees as a matter of course. But as the concept of transferable skills and inclusion become more important, that convention may be falling by the wayside.
Coffman's firm is challenging both itself and its clients to review job postings that specify the need for four-year college degrees, she said. A candidate doesn't need a college education to take on entry-level positions such as administrative assistant or data entry.
"[Requiring a college degree] can screen out a whole host of folks that might have absolutely wonderful skills and capabilities and who we need to get employed in the workforce to drive growth, prosperity, and obviously a more inclusive and diverse workforce," she said.
Recruiters should also rethink requirements that focus on physical ability when creating inclusive job advertisements.
A commonly stated job requirement -- whether it's appropriate for the job -- is "the ability to lift 30 pounds," Ellis said.
"If someone is in a wheelchair, they may not be able to lift 30 pounds, and they would not apply for that role," she said.
If the advertised job is for a warehouse position, being able to lift 30 pounds may make sense as a job requirement, but most office jobs don't require any heavy lifting, she said.
Job ad creators can help enable readers to focus on what truly matters through brevity, and the practice has a benefit for employers.
Creating concise job ads can help increase the number of applicants, Ellis said.
"The longer [a job ad] is, the less applicants apply," she said. When fewer applicants reply to a posting, the company's access to a diverse talent pool decreases even further, she said.
3. Tailor terms to the right geographical area
To appeal to a diverse talent pool, recruiters must make sure the job ad's terms and expressions read well for the targeted geographical location.
"Some language that may really resonate in the U.K. and Ireland may not resonate in the U.S. or APAC countries," Ellis said. "You want to check for clarity and that your phrases fit for you regionally."
Organizations should also avoid using flowery marketing speak and idioms, which may confuse candidates for whom English is a second language, Ellis said.
For example, saying a candidate should be "on the ball" could be confusing to nonnative English speakers.
4. Use tech, but understand its limits
Technology can support a DEI initiative, including ensuring that job ads don't include biased language or otherwise exclude potential candidates.
A number of software platforms, including Grammarly Business, Jasper, Semrush, Textio and Writer, can potentially support inclusive job ad creation, Ellis said. These tools incorporate AI and automation to help hiring managers and HR leaders set requirements that are appropriate to the advertised position, remove potentially confusing wording and remove noninclusive language.
Recruiters and job ad creators should not rely exclusively on technology for DEI support.
While some tools can truly support the creation of more inclusive job ads, they won't fix a culture that lacks in diversity and inclusion.
"The technology can make sure you're not using words that inadvertently discriminate, but if you aren't conscious about actively breaking bias, then technology is not really going to solve your problem," said Peter Brooks, vice president of talent acquisition at Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense technology company located in Falls Church, Va.
Nurturing diversity and inclusion is far more than an HR exercise, Brooks said. It translates into better-performing companies.
"There is ample evidence to suggest that diverse companies outperform nondiverse companies," he said. "There is a moral imperative to it, but there is also a very practical element that is essential if you want to optimize the performance of your company."