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How to Write an Inclusive Job Ad

Are you ‘competitive’?

Does the idea of a ‘fast-paced’, ‘competitive environment’ where you’ll be a ‘dominant leader’ excite you? Or would this sentence send you scuttling to the ‘Back’ button?

This isn’t a trick question. How you feel is entirely subjective. Although, it’s not totally surprising to hear that masculine words like ‘dominate’ subtly target male candidates, since they’re usually associated with male stereotypes.

Inclusive language makes a difference

Researchers from Waterloo and Duke Universities delved into the use of gendered language in job ads and the resulting inequality. Their findings showed people were less likely to apply to ads with words biased in favour of the opposite gender. Whether they noticed it or not.

To me, that’s not particularly mind-blowing. Not too long ago, I worked with a company who were toiling with their job ad. While they had no problem attracting men to the role, the number of female candidates was worryingly low. A few tweaks to their language got a good mix of candidates. Same thing happened at Goldman Sachs when they removed the word ‘aggressive’ from their job ads. Suddenly, they saw an upswing of applications from women.

This isn’t just a case of adding gender-neutral pronouns, although those are the bread and butter of inclusive writing. It’s about recognising when we’re using gendered language. So we’re not accidentally discouraging high-potential candidates from applying for roles in industries already suffering from a gender imbalance.

It’s about understanding the powerful impact of even one seemingly small, and insignificant, word on your readers.

It’s about writing with consideration for everyone in your audience.

There’s no finger-pointing here. We’re all guilty of using language that’s gender-coded or inaccessible without realising it. When writing job descriptions, our focus is usually on communicating the requirements, responsibilities and rewards – rarely do we consider how certain words will be interpreted by different demographics.

So how do you write an inclusive job ad?

Gender-neutral job descriptions are, at their core, clear and focused on the job. If you want to attract more women, you might consider adding more stereotypically feminine words like ‘support’ or ‘community.’ Personally, I’d advise you to write for a non-native English speaker.

Why? Because you’ll be more mindful not to use metaphors, similes or clever language and just stick to the fundamentals of the role. Plus, according to a study from Appcast, ads without male or female-coded words tend to have a lower cost per application (CPA), and attract more candidates.

On that note, there’s no place for catch-phrases, industry jargon or clever idioms in a job ad – only clarity.

This isn’t a gender issue, but an accessibility one. Candidates of all genders can be quickly discouraged by an employer who uses unnecessarily complex language, even if their skillset aligns with the role’s requirements.

Similarly, steer well clear from catchy words you think might help your ad stand out from the crowd. Words like ‘rockstar’ or ‘ninja’ or ‘guru’ can be really off-putting to candidates who have all the right skills but don’t see themselves as the Mick Jagger of Marketing. Funnily enough, most employers don’t want to hire someone who’ll trash their equipment, demand everything be done on their terms and throw a tantrum minutes before a meeting.

“I thought you were looking for a rockstar?”

Finally, write with all your potential candidates in mind. Details matter; superlatives like ‘world-class’ or ‘superior’ can discourage a huge portion of potential candidates who are more collaborative than competitive.

Equally, a job description that says ‘we work hard, we play hard’ can be interpreted as a bit of a ‘Bro Culture’ and will likely turn off swathes of candidates – particularly introverts, who are often some of the most valuable people in a creative environment.

As always, read what you’ve written aloud, and consider how it’ll be interpreted by candidates of all genders, ages, races and social backgrounds. If it passes the test, and is accessible for all audiences, you’re on to a winner.

Or should I say – a world-class job ad that will CRUSH your competitors and obliterate their chances of snatching up superior talent. Boom.

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