Words of Exclusion

16 years into the 21st century, you would think that recruiters in search for the best talent would not exclude a diverse applicant pool from the hiring mix. Unfortunately, that is exactly what many human capital offices do every day by writing job announcements in a way that exclude female and people of color candidates.

It is estimated there are over 25,000 words in the English language that can communicate bias regarding race, sex or other characteristics that can make their way into job postings.

Imagine how a recovering addict would feel upon reading a job vacancy that sought out applicants who “work hard and play hard.” Do these words suggest that this workplace goes to “happy hour” every day or only appeals to fast charging Millennials?

Unitive, a company that develops software to detect bias in job postings, suggests phrases like “the best of the best” scream white men. On the gender side of the equation, an expression like “competitive salary” may suggest that women with poor negotiation skills need not apply.

Other terms that imply male bias are “hierarchical and aggressive” while jargon like “adaptable and flexible” plays more to a female audience.

Other problematic words that favor men according to Unitive include: ambitious, analytical, assertive, autonomous, rigid, strong, risk taker and type A.

An example of a masculine worded job announcement would read something like this:

Reporting to the head of enterprise outreach, this role focuses on customer interaction. The ideal candidate is determined to succeed, driven to provide superior customer service.

One glaring example of hiring bias is the tech industry behemoth Google with it predominately 70% male workforce. Trade observers attribute these “boys will be boys” work environments to the use of term “ninja” in job advertisements.

The object of a ninja search is a person who is aggressive, an expert in their field and a man-consistent with the original role of the Japanese ninja.

Here are some inclusive terms that Unitive recommends for all-encompassing job announcements: adaptable, collaborative, creative, curious, resilient, trustworthy, thoughtful and socially responsible.

An example of a feminine worded job announcement would look something like this:

Come join our highly motivated and dedicated team. If you are committed to providing expert customer service and are responsive and sympathetic to the needs of customers, this job is for you.

Are you driving away the best-qualified job candidates? Wordsmith your job announcements. You may be unintentionally limited your organization’s search for the best talent as your build you dream team.

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LaCandice McCray

Richard, thank you for this insightful article and I appreciate you being a voice on issues related to race, ethnicity, and gender. Related to this topic are concerns about excluding persons with disabilities from job announcements, who also miss the opportunity to apply for jobs and demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and abilities. I would encourage re-wording job announcements with persons with disabilities in mind as well to be as inclusive as possible.

richard regan

Thank you for your support. Proponents of diversity and inclusion are in the minority within this forum. I am proud to serve with you to create public work places that work for everyone especially, persons with disabilities.