3 Simple Rules for Using Inclusive Language in Your Job Ads

4 min read

Historically, language has left many people out. And if your job ads are imbalanced, your company could be missing out too. Here’s how inclusive language can help.

There’s an important connection between words and work. From the way we explain our company’s vision and values to the questions we ask in an interview, language is a tool for building community in the workplace — even before an employment contract is signed.

A 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that masculine and feminine-themed words were an “unacknowledged…institutional-level mechanism of inequality maintenance.”

And if the idea of maintaining inequality sounds kind of icky to you, that’s because it is.

Harrowing tales of women like Rosa Parks or fair hiring heroes like Percy Green may feel like stories from a distant time but the truth is, these acts of discrimination didn’t happen all that long ago. There’s still plenty of work to be done. The good news is, there are some simple steps that can make a real difference. Starting with your next job post.

What is inclusive language? And why should you care.

When we talk about using “inclusive” language, we’re talking about using words wisely.

Using inclusive language means you make an intentional choice to use words that do not marginalize groups of people who may be knowingly or unknowingly discriminated against because of their culture, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, socioeconomic status, appearance — or any other factor that simply shouldn’t play a role.

Here’s why using inclusive language in job descriptions really matters:

  • 42% of working women have faced one of 8 types of discrimination at work — Pew Research Center
  • Only 24.2% of people with disabilities are participating in the US labor force — US Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • If black and minority ethnic talent was fully utilized in the UK, Britain’s economy could improve by up to £24 billion — The McGregor-Smith Review

And you know we could go on. But it’s also important to know what’s on the other side of those numbers:

  • Companies with inclusive talent practices have 30% higher revenue per employee
  • Gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors and ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to do the same
  • 67% of job seekers say they care about your diversity statistics

Your job ad is quite possibly the first point of contact an applicant will have with your employer brand. 👋

By using inclusive language, you show a level of awareness most other companies are still blind to. You also make sure every potential applicant is considered, which instantly broadens your talent pool.

But first, you’ve got to root out any language that unconsciously reflects prejudice or stereotypes. Here’s how to do that.

Rule 1. Keep it jargon-free

Jargon, slang, idiomatic expressions and colloquialisms can be “more fun than a barrel of monkeys.”

But they have no place in your job ads. 🙈

If you’ve reached expert status in a particular industry, some jargon probably makes sense to you, but to entry-level candidates, acronyms like KPIs and OKRs can feel like a foreign language. On the flipside, telling candidates they’ll have major FOMO if they don’t apply could cause older generations of talent to take a hard pass.

Using insider language in your job ads makes it easy for applicants to feel like outsiders. So keep your language simple and straightforward and don’t expect people to know every aspect of your company’s culture before having had the chance to experience it.

Rule 2. Balance masculine and feminine-themed words

It’s hard to believe something as small as a word can affect the number of applications we get and from whom. But if you ask the teams at Buffer, they’ll tell you it definitely makes a difference.

After a thorough investigation into their hiring practices, Buffer’s HR specialists discovered the reason why the company was receiving less than 2% female candidates for developer jobs: the word “hacker.” And while words like “ninja” and “rockstar” may feel natural to many of us, research shows, they can result in a stark gender imbalance.

Next time you’re editing your job ads, scan this list of masculine-coded words and this list of feminine-coded words and aim for a balance. Tools like Textio can also help.

(And if you’re still feeling a little skeptical about all this, go ahead and take a peek at Gender Decoder’s FAQs section. It’s an eye-opener.)

Rule 3. Walk in the candidate’s kicks

The best advice anyone can give you when talking about attracting and retaining diverse talent is to put people first.

This means it’s NOT ok to define people based on their disability or demographics (e.g., blind person, handicapped person, cleaning lady, etc.). Only mention characteristics like gender, sexual orientation, religion, racial group or ability when it’s directly relevant to the discussion.

And if you’re not sure you’re using the right words, check out The Conscious Style Guide for clear tips and insights.

You can also bring a little compassion into your job ads by thinking about the perks and benefits that matter most to different groups of candidates. Include financial and work/life offerings like parental leave, comfortable workspaces for neurodiverse talent and people with disabilities, and benefits coverage for domestic partners.

Don’t give up

Language and society are two things that never stop changing. And that means you’re bound to make some mistakes. That’s ok.

Getting rid of stereotypes requires intention and un-learning. What matters most is that you stay committed, trusting that the benefits of a truly human workplace will follow.

People-first hiring doesn’t have to be hard, but it can definitely feel like it sometimes — especially when you needed to fill that position yesterday. From automated job posting to customized candidate pipelines, Breezy helps keep the process simple and in-sync.

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