Language That Signals Inclusion

June 4, 2019

What do potential candidates from underrepresented groups think when they read your marketing and recruitment materials? Learn tips for making your language more inclusive.

If you’ve been following this employment lifecycle series, you’re clear on wanting to foster inclusivity and where you want to build representation, you’ve sought out new sources of recruitment, and you’ve widened your pool of candidates. But what if your newly identified recruits seem interested but hesitant? Or aren't even applying?

Especially if your workplace is still predominantly white, straight, and male, you may worry that candidates from marginalized identity groups will be reluctant to join the team, and more importantly, that there’s nothing you can do about it. But there are steps you can take to ensure candidates feel welcome when joining your team.

For starters, review your marketing and recruitment materials for non-inclusive language and requirements that may turn a candidate off.

Beyond a statement of non-discrimination at the end of a job description, directly communicate the steps you’ve taken to integrate diversity and inclusion into all levels of your organization. Furthermore, consider how your communications come across to candidates of different groups. This small extra effort will better demonstrate your commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

When you use inclusive language in your marketing and recruitment materials, you show employees that they are valued.

For instance:

• Do you use “he” as your default pronoun to refer to both men and women, instead of using “he or she,”—or even better, the gender neutral “they?”

• Are there certain words in your job descriptions that we tend to associate with men more than women, like “assertive,” “dominant,” and “outspoken?” Studies show that job descriptions that include words like these decrease women’s interest and motivation in applying for the job. Consider whether those qualities are absolutely necessary for an employee to be successful in their position.

• Do you list unnecessary physical requirements or employ ableist words like “talk” when you could use “communicate,” “see” when you could use “detect,” or “carry” when you could use “transport” or “remove?”

• Do you signal exclusion by requiring oddly specific and non-essential job experiences that (generally) only majority-group members have access to, or that could easily be learned on the job? For instance, consider whether you really need an employee to have past experience in a “fast-paced tech start-up.” Could alternative experiences like working in a fast-paced restaurant or a scrappy community organization yield transferable skills and the same level of success on the job?

The language you choose reveals a lot about your organization’s culture. When you update the language in your marketing and recruitment materials to make them more inclusive, you communicate to all candidates that their unique contributions will be valued and that they’ll have opportunities to rise within the organization.

Do you want a more diverse workforce?
Learn more ways to make your workplace more welcoming.

This post is part of a series addressed to HR and other hiring managers about integrating diversity competence into each step of the employment lifecycle, from recruitment and hiring, to creating an inclusive workplace, to evaluating and cultivating leaders who will take inclusive excellence at your enterprise to the next level.