Today’s companies strive to have a diverse workforce to bring together a greater range of talent with unique abilities, backgrounds, and experiences. But while the makeup of the modern workplace has evolved, unfortunately job listings have not.
While many organizations have realized that prioritizing diversity on their teams is crucial to their success, the hiring practices those same firms use to recruit new talent can undercut their plans. Unnecessary educational requirements, competencies, and job locations can unintentionally exclude a large portion of qualified workers, which is why job listings need to evolve.
Companies seeking to hire a diverse workforce and attract more people of color, women, LGBTQ+ workers, disabled folks, and employees of different ages and social classes could be sabotaging their own efforts with stale, outmoded job descriptions (JDs). It’s a daunting task to overhaul your whole system, but by implementing some key changes and a few best practices, HR experts and executives say creating inclusive job descriptions doesn’t have to be a mystery. Here’s how to get started.
10 Best Practices for Creating Inclusive Job Descriptions
1. Choose your words carefully.
The words you use in your job descriptions send a powerful message to your potential applicants, so you’ll want to choose them consciously and carefully. Haphazardly using gendered language or non-inclusive pronouns and titles in your listings can unintentionally send negative messages, and even turn off some diverse candidates from applying altogether.
Here’s a closer look at how specific terms in job ads could repel qualified applicants, as well as how to adjust your language to be more inclusive.
- The term “able-bodied” is a common filler word in job descriptions that can exclude disabled people. Avoid using it completely and instead mention if the role will require heavy lifting or standing for extended periods of time.
- Phrases like “recent college graduate” and “digital native” show a bias for younger workers and can suggest your company has an age range in mind for candidates, so opt for other ageless terms instead.
- “Salesman” or “saleswoman” relays that you’re looking for a candidate of a specific gender, so swap them out for a gender-neutral title like “salesperson” to be more welcoming to candidates of all genders and gender identities.
- Vague terms like “ninja” and “rockstar” add no additional context to your job ads and should be avoided.
- Using “he/she” pronouns to describe the responsibilities of the role could turn off nonbinary candidates, so swap these for more inclusive pronouns like “they” or use language like “the candidate” or “the ideal applicant.”
Lastly, keep in mind that certain soft skills also have gendered connotations. Emotional words like “compassion,” “collaboration,” and “trust” can be seen as feminine and attract more female applicants than male or nonbinary candidates. Conversely, words like “confident,” “ambitious,” and “fearless” are often perceived as more masculine qualities.
Being aware of these connotations, your business can ensure its job descriptions avoid unconscious bias and gendered language in order to attract candidates of all genders. If you need help finding and replacing gendered words, try this free online Gender Decoder tool. To make sure you are balancing out any adjectives that may carry a gendered connotation, check out these lists of masculine- and feminine-coded words.
2. Revisit educational requirements.
Lately, many businesses have been rethinking educational background requirements, as they can exclude people from low-income backgrounds who cannot afford to go to college. Skills and experience can be acquired outside of a university setting, so by eliminating these educational requirements, a company can open itself up to a much larger pool of qualified job seekers.
Whenever you post a new role, ask yourself if a candidate truly needs a college or advanced degree in order to perform this job well. If the role isn’t highly regulated or technical, hiring managers might be better off leaving it out of their JDs.
3. Rethink necessary qualifications.
When you’re crafting the list of qualifications and experience your ideal candidate will have, consider listing these in two categories: “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” Why two different lists? Many candidates — especially from historically underrepresented groups — look at job postings as lists of requirements as opposed to being wish lists, which can have a measurable effect on responses. Sorting some qualifications out into a “nice-to-have” category could mean that fewer candidates rule themselves out and don’t apply because they don’t have every single qualification mentioned in the job description.
Or, you can remove any explicit mentions of qualifications from your postings altogether. "Take out the checklists of ‘musts’ and ‘preferreds,’” advised Aaron Smith, COO of OMNI Institute, a nonprofit social science consultancy. “People are pretty good at sorting themselves and checklists trigger imposter syndrome.
“We removed almost all of our qualifications and instead we write them [like], ‘In your first year, you’ll likely have done…X,’ and list out what the role will look like,” he continued.
This small tweak has proved successful for the nonprofit. “Our applicants have never been better, and in a couple of cases we hired people who explicitly told us that they were on the fence [about] applying, but because we didn’t have a checklist, they could see themselves in the role and knew they could do the things we were listing so they went for it,” said Smith.
By breaking out your job requirements into two lists or adopting the “In your first year” approach that Smith described, your candidates can better assess their qualifications and whether or not they should apply. And keeping job descriptions focused on the essentials of the job itself makes them more appealing to a broader cross-section of strong candidates. When writing your job postings, stick to the bare minimum of qualifications and experience that are essential to the role to attract more candidates.
4. Include salary ranges.
Money matters. Show that your business values pay transparency and equity by listing salary ranges for all of your open roles. This pay transparency sends a powerful message: Your company pays candidates based on their skills and experience, not other factors like their gender or age.
"Not posting salaries is a core driver of pay inequity along race and gender lines, so posting a salary and not negotiating — just offering it with confidence because you know what a fair wage is for that role — is just helpful for everyone,” said Smith.
Plus, not listing salary ranges could actually get your company into trouble. Many states and cities, like Colorado and New York City, are adopting pay transparency requirements to help end pay inequity and discrimination. Sharing compensation ranges for your open roles will not only help your business practice pay transparency, but will also ensure that you remain compliant with state and local laws.
5. List inclusive benefits.
Salary is only one component of your business’s overall compensation package. Give your applicants a better idea of your total compensation package by sharing a list of your company’s benefits in your job descriptions. A list like this provides a great opportunity to showcase the inclusivity of your benefits, whether that’s for new and existing parents, recent graduates, or single employees.
Here’s a list of some inclusive benefits and perks your company should include in its job descriptions if you offer them:
- Paid parental leave
- Fertility/family planning
- Childcare assistance
- Floating holidays
- Unlimited PTO
- Flexible scheduling
- Healthcare plans
- Financial wellness programs
- Employee assistance programs (EAPs)
- Student loan repayment
- Tuition assistance
These benefits not only give your applicants a better understanding of your company’s full compensation package, but they also show your organization’s commitment to building an inclusive company culture and investing in employee well-being.
6. Mention transferable skills.
Sometimes the best candidates are the ones with nontraditional backgrounds. That’s because certain skills transcend roles and make an untraditional candidate qualified for a job.
For example, say an applicant has a long history as a salesperson, but wants to make a career change to work as a customer success manager. This applicant could draw attention to their exceptional communication and time management skills as well as their experience working closely with clients to show that they’re a qualified candidate, even if their past positions weren’t in customer success roles.
By including transferable skills in your job descriptions, your company can draw from a larger pool of job candidates to find the best match for your open role. A few examples of transferable skills you can include in your job descriptions are:
- Technology literacy
7. Share the job location.
Remote work is here to stay and has become an option that can prompt a candidate to apply to your company or take their resume elsewhere. In fact, data from anonymous review and job search website Glassdoor showed that the number of searches for remote job opportunities grew 360% between June 2019 and June 2021 and is only continuing to rise. Offering more remote roles can help your business tap into new talent markets and find qualified applicants that don’t live within commuting distance to your physical office locations.
That said, everyone has a work environment in which they feel most comfortable and productive, whether that’s working remotely, in-office, or a mix of the two. To help employees understand where they’ll be expected to work from and how frequently (if ever) they’ll be required to work on-site, be sure to share what office or locations the role can work from. This helps set expectations with your applicants and ensures you attract talent that likes the work environments you provide for a given role.
8. Define your flexible work options.
If a position allows for flexible or part-time hours, be sure to mention this in your job description. These types of roles are often highly sought after by parents, as well as people with disabilities or caretaker responsibilities. Being able to step out of the office or away from the computer — even for just a few hours to pick up kids from school, bring a loved one to a medical appointment, or take time to manage the symptoms of a disability — can be life-changing for an employee. If your business is open to giving a hired employee this flexibility, highlight this in your job description; it may help you attract top talent that might have otherwise skipped your advert.
9. State your commitment to diversity.
If your firm is committed to hiring a diverse workforce, it’s important to explicitly say so.
“You can proactively state in the job posting your desire to create an inclusive workplace as you describe the company itself,” said Laura Handrick, an HR professional at mental and behavioral health site Choosing Therapy. “Add statements like, ‘We're seeking to create a diverse work culture that closely matches the diversity of our client base,’ or, ‘We seek applicants from all backgrounds to ensure we get the best, most creative talent on our team.’”
Be clear that you’re an equal opportunity employer and encourage candidates of all backgrounds and experiences to apply. The bottom line: Letting potential candidates know that you see diversity as a valuable asset, not just a box to check, will strengthen your appeal.
10. Cast a wide net.
Lastly, where you post your job openings is also important — and can influence the type of talent you attract. To reach a wider pool of candidates, invest in forms of diverse applicant sourcing. This could be trying new niche job boards, online connection platforms like Black Tech Pipeline, or historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Ensuring that your job listings are reaching diverse groups of people is the first step in hiring diverse candidates.
Putting in the effort to make your firm’s listings as inclusive as possible may take some work, but it’s worth it for the positive change it will create. This effort shouldn’t begin and end with inclusive job postings, though. While getting diverse talent in the door is important, keeping them fulfilled, happy, and engaged is equally so; you must have a workplace culture where all employees can thrive in order to retain diverse employees.
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