Even when we have the best of intentions, the way we write job postings may be excluding a large percentage of qualified candidates. We typically write job postings based on our understanding of the role and its requirements, however, our unconscious biases can impact who we envision as the best fit for the role and the language we use to attract them to apply. By directing language towards attracting a certain type of candidate, we can exclude other candidates who do not “fit the mould”. These people that are excluded have the potential to be great employees and could add positively to a company’s culture.
For instance, here’s an example of that:
Jennifer is a 38 year old mother of two who is looking for a new job now that her kids are in school full time. She is excited to apply for software developer jobs as that’s what she did for several years before she had kids.
She finds a job posting for an interesting company that offers great perks such as unlimited vacation time, remote work opportunities, and paid volunteer days. However, when she starts her application, she sees that they are looking for “fresh young faces who are excited to work hard and play hard.” Although she is eager to contribute at work, she feels that she may feel out of place as someone who may be older than the other employees and wants to spend time after work with her family rather than “playing hard”. In the end, Jennifer does not submit an application to this company.
It is clear that this company is trying to recruit candidates that are a good fit for the company culture. However, we can see in this example that this language is also communicating the type of candidate that they do not want.
Job postings are often a candidate’s first exposure to a business. Therefore, they are a great tool for communicating not only what type of candidate the business is seeking, but also a business’s culture and values. However, it is important to be careful in selecting the language of the job posting. In some extreme cases, a job posting may even be at risk of infringing on an individual’s right to equal treatment in employment.
When writing job postings, a great resource is the Human Rights at Work 2008 tool provided by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. In this document, you will find four general guidelines for writing a job posting that demonstrates inclusivity and is compliant with the Human Rights Code.
Let’s look at each guideline more closely:
#1. Use non-discriminatory wording to describe the job
While most job postings do not contain overtly discriminatory language, some companies are still using language that indirectly relates to one of the prohibited grounds of discrimination. Wording should be carefully reviewed to ensure that it is not indirectly related to race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, record of offences, age, marital status, family status, or disability.
In the scenario with Jennifer above, the company stated that they were “looking for fresh young faces” which is clearly discriminatory on the basis of age. However, even if the job posting said “new grad with fresh ideas” it is still problematic by implying that a younger person is desired for the role. Research shows that this language can indicate how biases will play out at later stages of the recruitment process. For example, employers who used language related to ageist stereotypes in their job postings were less likely to call back older applicants.
#2. Clearly explain essential duties of the job
Having a clear understanding of the essential duties of the job can provide a solid basis for making hiring decisions, providing accommodation, and assessing employee performance. With an understanding of essential duties, recruiters or hiring managers can select candidates based on the candidates’ ability to do those duties. This can reduce the likelihood of making a decision based on factors that are less relevant to the role, such as physical, technical, or language ability.
Research also shows that candidates who are provided with an accurate idea of the duties of the job in a posting will be more satisfied with the job if they eventually accept an offer. As well, more specific job postings have been found to be associated with more positive attitudes towards the posting and the company.
#3. Use neutral language
Using neutral language can include replacing commonly used terms (e.g., “manpower”) with a neutral alternative (e.g., “staffing”). For example, the use of gender neutral language has become more common in recent years. This includes replacing job titles like “salesman” with “sales representative” or using the term “server” instead of “waitress”.
Although a job posting may not be directly discriminating against candidates with gendered language, it can subtly communicate to a group of people that they may have trouble belonging at that company. Research has shown when job postings include more masculine than feminine wording, women found these jobs to be less appealing.
#4. Include a statement about providing accommodation and that the employer is an equal opportunity employer
An equal opportunity employer (EOE) statement is a short paragraph that conveys a business’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in its employment practices. Many job postings include these statements now, and there are many examples to choose from. It is important to ensure that this statement is a sincere reflection of your company’s values and ability to provide accommodation.
Overall, job postings provide a great way to attract applicants to a job. However, if you are not carefully considering guidelines and best practices in inclusive language, you might be deterring potentially great candidates.