Job descriptions

According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “it is illegal for an employer to publish a job advertisement that shows a preference for or discourages someone from applying for a job because of his or her race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” This section of the ACS Inclusivity Style Guide will help you recognize biased language in typical job ads and write more inclusive announcements for your open positions.

Choose gender-neutral language

Background:

Job descriptions that use gendered language suggest that some people are not suitable for the job based solely on their gender identity. Gendered language perpetuates gender inequality in the workplace. Gendered language in job descriptions can inadvertently turn away qualified job seekers from applying or even considering applying for the job. Therefore gender-inclusive language should be used in job descriptions and titles to ensure that everyone, regardless of their gender identity, can apply for and, if qualified, get the job. There are also certain words that can turn away women and nonbinary applicants because those words appeal more to men.

Recommendation:

Instead of using the pronouns “he/she” or “him/her” in job descriptions, use gender-neutral language like “the applicant,” “the candidate,” or “they” when describing the role responsibilities. Similarly, when advertising job titles, avoid the use of gendered titles such as “chairman” or “councilman”; use instead “chair,” “chairperson,” or “council member.” Research shows that gendered wording associated with stereotypes in job descriptions can sustain gender inequality. The use of words associated with male stereotypes, like “leader,” “competitive,” or “dominant,” impacted women’s perceptions of the job, making the jobs less appealing. A tool that can help you find language that might exclude certain candidates because of their gender identity is Kat Matfield’s Gender Decoder, which is based on the aforementioned research by Danielle Gaucher, Justin Friesen, and Aaron C. Kay. Also see “Gender and sexuality."

Examples:

Use:

Their job responsibilities include

Avoid:

His or her job responsibilities include

Use:

Applicants will promote and teach search-engine optimization to the staff.

Avoid:

A successful applicant will champion search-engine optimization to the staff. (“Championing” might appeal more to men.)

Avoid biased or coded language

Background:

Like gendered language, biased or coded language can also inadvertently exclude qualified job seekers from applying for a position because of their race, age, disability status, and other characteristics. Some phrases are seen as codes for seeking people with a certain personal background beyond the skills needed for a job. For example, people may view “digital native” as code for “younger person,” and “recent college graduates” can discourage older applicants from applying. Similarly, ableism can unintentionally exclude people with disabilities from applying. For example, job descriptions that mention the applicant “must be able to lift 15 pounds,” when the job itself is in an office and does not require heavy lifting as part of the day-to-day job activities, can exclude people with certain physical disabilities. Also, job descriptions that require written and spoken ability in a particular language, when not core to the role, may exclude people whose primary language is sign language or a language other than the one requested.

Recommendation:

Avoid terms that code for gender, age, race, disability, or another characteristic. See this list from the University of Massachusetts for suggestions about how to describe requirements in ways that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Also see “Ageist language and stereotypes.” Consider whether a particular skill set is truly critical to succeeding in the role before adding it to the role description.

Example:

Use:

We are looking for people familiar with word-processing software like Microsoft Word.

Avoid:

We are looking for digital natives.

Use plain, concise language to describe the role’s duties and responsibilities

Background:

Many job descriptions use convoluted words or technical jargon. A role description that is mostly written at the US eighth-grade level can make it easier and faster for people to read, including candidates with varying levels of fluency in English.

Recommendation:

To ensure the use of plain language, substitute shorter words for longer ones and avoid redundant information.

Examples:

Use:

Responsible

Avoid:

Primarily responsible

Use:

Intelligent

Avoid:

Highly intelligent

Use:

Because

Avoid:

Because of the fact that

Be specific and literal

Background:

Being specific and literal applies to both the role title and the description. Often, a title is too vague for an applicant to quickly determine whether the role is a suitable fit. For example, “Human Resources Strategic Planning Manager” is clearer than “Manager.” And explicitly stating expectations or desired skill sets rather than implying them ensures that your description is clear. Additionally, the use of phrases like “will be expected to juggle tasks” can be misinterpreted by not only neurodivergent candidates, such as those on the autism spectrum, but also some people who have learned English as an additional language.

Recommendation:

For external audiences, use a straightforward, specific, and sufficiently descriptive job title. Seek outside feedback from someone unfamiliar with the role. And try to avoid the use of any phrases that could be misinterpreted. Use “action” verbs that describe a mental or physical action that is specific and appropriate to the workplace.

Example:

Use:

Must be able to balance and prioritize multiple, on-going projects

Avoid:

Must be able to juggle multiple projects