How to make your job adverts and recruitment processes more inclusive
By Annie Makoff on 19 March 2021
Competitive. Years of experience. Self-confident. University-educated. Assertive. Dominant. Internship. In job adverts, these words and phrases have the power to put off huge numbers of talented candidates from diverse backgrounds because they perpetuate racial and ethnic inequalities as well as gender imbalances within male-dominated industries.
“The language and tone used in job adverts can have a really big impact on who applies and who doesn’t, because it can create self-disqualification,” says Cynthia Davis, founder and CEO of BAME Recruitment. “Someone may be perfectly qualified for a role, but they choose not to apply because of the language and tone used.”
According to Sophie Chandauka, co-founder of Black British Business Awards, roles requiring prior work experience or mentioning elite levels of education such as Oxbridge or the Russell Group are also problematic: “[Some] minorities may have taken practical jobs such as stacking supermarket shelves and there would be no option to undertake work experience at an asset management firm,” she explains. “The expectation that every individual has had the same privileged flexibility is simply flawed.”
Countless studies have highlighted the extent of biased language in job adverts: the number of adverts promoting D&I dropped by 51 per cent last year according to job search engine Adzuna, while in-depth analysis by Sia Partners of 100,000 job adverts found a significant number used masculine language for senior positions. Research from recruitment company Michael Page revealed that over half of job adverts are biased towards men. And earlier this month, data from the Parker Review revealed that one fifth of FTSE100 companies still lack ethnic minority representation at board level.
Companies need to do more to ensure their job adverts are as inclusive as possible. Here’s how:
Get off the treadmill
“You can hire diverse talent, promote women into senior leadership, but companies are always going to be on this treadmill of trying to get talent through the door unless they create an inclusive workplace culture,” says Lara Pedley, global managing director at ISC Group. “It’s about longevity.”
A big part of this is taking into account flexible working options: offering job shares, no working weekends and the flexibility to split parental leave.
Create diverse HR teams
As Irene Molodtsov, CEO at Sia Partners UK & Ireland points out, we all have unconscious biases but unconscious bias from an all-white or all-male HR team can perpetuate existing issues. “If you have a senior male in a marketing function discussing a new role with a male HR professional. They will have a male-to-male peer conversation and the resulting advert will be inevitably biased,” she explains.
Instead, BAME Recruitment’s Davis recommends using a collective of people from different levels and backgrounds to draft, review and finalise job adverts. “This will reduce the impact of self-disqualification and help to ensure you receive the widest possible range of applicants,” she adds.
Seek talent from different sources
“Recruits should go beyond seeking talent from Oxbridge and Russell Group universities and make it clear that non-traditional work experience is welcome,” advises Chandauka of Black British Business Awards. “There are also several charities supporting young, ethnic minority people prepare for careers. I urge companies to partner with such organisations.”
Set targets to tackle male-dominated sectors
Although controversial in some ways, targets can, in some circumstances help ‘concentrate employers’ minds’ on what needs to be done to change recruitment practices, according to Tessa Wright, professor of employment relations, School of Business Management at Queen Mary University London. “Many people argue that what is needed is culture change in male-dominated industries, but setting targets to increase women’s employment can force organisations to consider how to change workplace culture to ensure women both are attracted to these jobs and remain in them.”
Re-assess what ‘good looks like’
Davis believes that candidate selection has become ‘lazy’, with recruiters relying too much on past professional performance to assess future potential. Instead, companies should be working with hiring managers to ‘re-imagine and re-evaluate’ what ‘good looks like’ and give candidates the opportunity to demonstrate future potential during the interview.
Utilise technology – but don’t rely on it
Artificial intelligence such as bias decoder tools can help identify or remove potentially biased words from a job advert, but says, Chandauka, it shouldn’t be relied upon. “It’s not the silver bullet to tackling racial inequality in the workplace,” she points out. “Nor should companies rely on prior playbooks and targets to make a change. Race is a different beast to gender so lift and deploy techniques will not be of benefit.”
CASE STUDY: SharkNinja
Global home tech and innovation firm SharkNinja recently launched WE LEAD, an initiative designed to support women across the company as well as inspire those still in education. The multinational firm also did a complete overhaul of their recruitment process and worked with a specialist company to ensure the language they used in their job adverts was as inclusive as possible. But, says Jen Marsden, director, design engineering, for male-dominated sectors like STEM to change, companies need to start engaging with women much earlier to encourage higher numbers in the profession. As well as offering apprenticeship schemes to reach out to candidates from diverse backgrounds, SharkNinja began offering experience days and school visits before the pandemic, so children could view STEM from a real-life perspective.
“If STEM companies don’t engage early enough, we won’t see change in the industry,” says Marsden. “We need to inspire school-age girls so they actually want to work in STEM. Multiple studies have shown that a diverse workforce actually increases the success of a business, so there’s a clear business case for addressing this issue.”
d&i Leaders is a global community of senior diversity, inclusion and HR focused professionals, looking to collaborate, network and accelerate their workplace inclusion strategy.