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Wordsmithing to Avoid Bias in Your Job Postings

Carlos Acosta | 09.06.2021

In recruitment, first impressions are crucial in attracting top talent. How you phrase and publicize your job postings can mean the difference between recruiting the best hires and / or repelling them.

As hiring managers, it’s important (especially across borders and cultures) to recognize that certain words can be associated with different connotations than what you intend. It’s also essential to acknowledge that even for the best and most experienced recruiters, cognitive biases occasionally find their way into the hiring process, and this can sometimes manifest in how you write your job descriptions.

So how should you wordsmith your position announcements and descriptions to avoid bias?  

Carlos Acosta & Pia Puebla regularly collaborate on all aspects of the recruitment process to include wordsmithing position descriptions for optimal effect.

Carlos Acosta & Pia Puebla regularly collaborate on all aspects of the recruitment process

1. Use gender-neutral language

In a study, it’s been found that gendered wording in job ads could inadvertently lead to gender inequality, simply because people subconsciously associate certain words as masculine or feminine.

The study, in particular, found that using “masculine” words such as assertive, competitive, ambitious, and decisive could deter female applicants, especially for male-dominated jobs. In a separate report, “feminine” words such as responsible, committed, and yield tend to attract more female applicants.

As such, use gender-neutral language in your job description to attract both male and female candidates. For example:

  • Masculine wording: Strong communication and influencing skills.
  • Feminine/neutral wording: Proficient oral and written communications skills

Additionally, this also means using gender-neutral pronouns if the job description calls for their usage. Terms such as they/them are preferable over he/she. Other examples include sexual orientation over sexual preference and parenthood leave over maternity/paternity leave.

2. Use inclusive language

In relation to the first point, certain words are also considered discriminatory (for example, chairman vs. chairperson, mankind vs. humankind, etc.), and using non-inclusive language could prevent you from attracting a more diverse candidate pool.

Here are a few ways to incorporate inclusive language in your job description and ads:

  • Be clear and concise: Avoid jargon and complex phrases; keep your job description as direct to the point as possible to avoid confusion, especially for candidates who don’t speak English as their first language. For example, using phrases such as “talk the talk” and “walk the walk” could deter disabled candidates. Additionally, phrases such as superstar and ninja are best replaced with simpler and more accurate terms.
  • Avoid exclusionary words: There’s a long list of potentially offensive words to use in job descriptions. Among these are the following, along with their more-inclusive synonyms: afflicted/handicapped (person with a disability), mom/dad (parent), man-hours/manpower (work hours/workforce), layman (layperson), and widow/widower (deceased spouse/partner), to name a few.
  • Avoid albeist language: Spicing up your job ads to reflect your branding may be good, but do this with caution. Avoid albeist terms such as cripple, crazy, insane, and blind eye. This goes back to our previous point to keep your job ads clear and concise.
  • Avoid racist language: Be sensitive with your word choices and avoid terms that indicate race or color. For example: blacklist (denylist), whitelist (allowlist), and master (leader/primary). It’s also important to be mindful of the culture and context. Some words may be considered offensive in some countries while in other countries, they may be acceptable (e.g., oriental). The best course of action, in this case, is to use inclusive language as much as possible.

3. Involve several people/teams before publishing

After carefully wordsmithing your job ads and descriptions, it is good practice to have these reviewed by several groups of people in your company before publishing them. In addition to spotting oversights or unintended language, it will also help you gain a better perspective of the role.

For technical and more specialized job ads, consulting with other people also helps in refining the language of your job posting better for the accuracy of terms used.

Another option is to run your job ad through third-party tools like Gender Decoder, Better Allies, or Textio.

4. Use an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Statement in your job ads

Lastly, place your organization’s policy and position on diversity and inclusion in each job ad and/or description. Familiarize yourself with the specifics of your respective country’s equal employment opportunity policies so that you can create an effective and well-crafted EEO statement.

Consult with Recruitment Experts for Your Job Announcements

An important thing to note is that continuing education is essential if you aim to avoid making a faux pas in how you represent opportunity in your organization. A well written and organized job description can provide great benefit to your employer brand.

The world is constantly changing, and what may have been acceptable yesterday may be taken as offensive today. Sensitivity and compassion to underrepresented groups matter.

Additionally, making a conscious effort as a recruiter to work on your innate biases is crucial to better hiring results. Here at The QualiFind Group, we pride ourselves in taking a multicultural approach on the recruitment process. This means we take every step to make sure we understand the cultural nuances of each of our clients to include carefully wordsmithing job descriptions to make them more inclusive and effective in communicating what the client is looking for in a candidate.

If you need more guidance with your job descriptions or with any of your recruitment needs, The QualiFind Group is an excellent resource for you. We have more than 2 decades of experience within the professional recruitment and headhunting industry. Our consultants across the US, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Brazil are all accustomed to working with diverse sets of people all over the world.

Find out why more and more clients engage The QualiFind Group for their professional, technical and functional management talent needs. Contact us at https://www.qualifindgroup.com/en/contact/ to get started!


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