Removing Bias from your Vocabulary | Recruitment Strategy
Can language exclude? In this article, we look at the important place that writing equal opportunities job ad listings has in the recruiters’ skills repertoire.
Recruitment asks you to call upon all sorts of talents throughout your working day. You may swap sales for IT skills one minute; diplomacy for book-keeping the next. One skill that is often overlooked though is having a flair for the written word.
Writing for a wider audience pays
Of course, the most important piece of written communication in the recruiter’s world is the job listing. Your vacancy announcements are probably broadcast to the whole world nowadays – through a combination of jobs boards, social media channels, and database communiqués. Your potential audience and reach has never been more powerful.
But with these powers come greater responsibility: of ensuring that your messages are inclusive.
Let’s be clear on this. This is not a matter of political correctness, or hurting people’s feelings. If your text communications have a wider appeal, you will be more successful. This lesson is about your business’s bottom line. the fact that you are not antagonising strangers as you go – that’s just an added bonus.
The Anatomy of an Equal Opportunities Job Ad
So, how do you write an inclusive and equal opportunities job ad? The good news is that a change in your writing style to a gender, age or ethnically neutral tone does not mean scrapping everything and starting again. In fact, you are likely to never need to change more than one or two words in any of your existing job listings. The reason for this? Almost all bias occurs when writing about the candidate, or their position within your (or your client’s) company.
Examples? Typically, gendered language is vocabulary such as talking about ‘a competitive environment’, ‘a strong candidate’ or a ‘natural leader‘. Ethnically exclusionary language may describe a workplace as having a traditional outlook. Ageism can be found in words describing a team as ‘vibrant’, ‘energetic’ and ‘youthful’.
In fact, padding words and descriptive terms which have you reaching for the thesaurus are almost always the problem cases. The answer? Keep your language perhaps a little plainer, a little more formal than perhaps you’d choose to use in a personal communication.
And there’s another reason for toning down the purple prose:
Your social media speak is probably already a cliché
You know that new post format which you’ve just seen on social media? It’s already a cliché.
That’s it. That’s the tweet.
There is a growing online trend for highlighting (and then mocking) the corny clichés that recruiters use in their advertising. Have you ever put a call out for superheroes, rockstars, gurus and ninjas? Then the internet is laughing at you.
these terms are not only corny, and achingly over-reaching for trendiness points. Applicants are increasingly aware of these meaningless terms being used to fudge the actual job description and duties. The reasoning is sound. If you’re recruited to work as a software engineer, then you know what your duties are. If you’re only a “development guru”, then that amorphous term is usually read as: “you will do whatever your line manager want you to do”. As a job description, it’s far from appealing and erodes trust in your job ad.
Is writing even still relevant?
We’ve looked at a few writing tips now. But how valuable are they, really?
In fact, writing is a more important form of communication today than perhaps ever before. This may sound counter-intuitive to you at first. After all, our phones are always with us and they ensure that we can be called at any time. The written word can feel somewhat quaint and old fashioned by comparison.
In fact, the reality is quite the reverse. Because of SMS and Messenger apps, we’re doing more of our communicating by writing than ever. And not only that: the written word has a far better engagement rate than a cold call – according to studies. The numbers make a compelling case:
- In a sample of handheld device users in the United States, individuals sent and received five times the number of text messages as they made or received phone calls.
- SMS text messages have a 209% higher response rate than a phone call, email, or Facebook message.
- 60 per cent of customers will read a text within the first five minutes of receiving it.
- The open rates on SMS text messages are around 98 per cent.
Other considerations for your job ads
These recruitment news pages often look at the changing face of recruitment and attempt to make sense of the changes. We’ve even investigated the need for strong written skills before; albeit within the context of technological changes. Advanced IT systems mean that consultants are increasingly having to learn how to write for machines and artificial intelligence audiences.
In that previous article, we set out how simple phrases or details can throw out an AI reader. One classic example: automated search engines read an entire job listing and then decide which categories the listing is relevant to. So, if you are using an email like “firstname.lastname@example.org” or “HR@businessname.co.uk” to receive applications, the AI will read this. It will then list your job ad (erroneously) among recruiting and HR roles. For this reason, it’s much better to use your actual name as the point of contact. Applicants will be much less confused as to whether the role has been miscategorised or not.
The way unconscious biases occur in our job listings is similar to this, but not identical. Just as AI read our words in ways that we would never intend, so too can different audiences interpret our texts in contrasting ways. Several high profile studies have show that language can be gendered, ethnically exclusive, or ageist. None of this is conducive to an open or equal employment initiative.
in fact, our choice of words goes beyond conveying an idea of a message. They promote identity, belonging, group thinking – and also alienation and exclusivity.