The Importance of Inclusive Language in Hiring

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives are becoming a priority for many organizations, their employees and as well as most candidates. It’s no surprise that inclusive initiatives and practices should extend to the selection and hiring process. Hiring teams play an important role in helping their organizations build a healthy and diverse culture at work. More specifically, the language used by the hiring team throughout the selection process is integral to your candidate experience. 

Inclusive Language in Practice

Inclusive language practices encourage wording which doesn’t marginalize people based on their social identities and/or lived experiences (e.g., race, age, gender, disability, etc.). The language we use can reflect implicit biases and ultimately creates barriers in the workplace. For example, defaulting to ‘he’ as the pronoun of a theoretical person is gendered-language which assumes that men are the default or norm in that situation. Such gendered-language, jargon, slang or discriminatory expressions can result in an ‘othering’ experience for candidates where their prospective sense of belonging is negatively influenced. Candidates may perceive a mismatch between their own personal values and that of the organization based on the language they encounter during the selection process. This is important as recent surveys show that over 50% of candidates would decline a job if the organization did not have the same environmental or diversity views and would not work for a company with a bad reputation. 

Inclusive Language in Job Descriptions

Language has the power to shape reality and valued outcomes. This certainly extends to the selection setting. For example, research has consistently shown that the language used in job postings can deter certain pools of candidates, namely gender and ethnic minorities, from applying. Such hindrances can reduce the diversity of candidates thus jeopardizing strategic diversity recruitment. 

How can you Implement Inclusive Language?

Implementing inclusive language is important but not an overnight fix. Many companies, like Twitter and Google, have prioritized the use of inclusive language through developing Inclusive Language Style Guides. To apply this to the selection context, you can adapt your current organizational style guides by adding inclusive language in hiring.  This can serve as a resource to which hiring teams can refer.

Below are 6 tips to further support hiring professionals in using inclusive language:

  1. Use universal plain language and avoid acronyms. Any company specific or industry specific jargon and acronyms are not universally recognizable by all candidates. They can make your language more complex, coded and exclusionary for many candidate pools. Universal language applies to both how your job description is worded but also the language you use during the interview and any other candidate interactions. 
  2. Use people-first language. This type of linguistic style puts the person first before any condition, position, diagnosis or identity. For example, ‘person with a disability’ and ‘person who uses a wheelchair’ are more appropriate and inclusive than ‘disabled person’ and ‘ wheelchair user.’ 
  3. Use gender-neutral language. This linguistic style can be implemented in many forms like not defaulting to ‘he’ and using ‘they’ instead for a theoretical person. Also, when referring to families of organizational members, opt for gender-neutral labels like ‘partner.’ Another change to be made is addressing groups using gender-neutral phrases like ‘y’all, folks, team, friends’ instead of the common ‘hey guys’.
  4. Avoid generalizations. When interacting with candidates from different backgrounds, avoid making any statements that assume an element of their identity which you infer based on the social category to which they belong. This will allow for an inclusive environment where your candidates feel comfortable to be themselves. 
  5. Avoid phrases with biased origins. Much of our common language has biased and prejudiced origins. So, it is extremely important to be critical of any language which may not serve your inclusive language goals. Many resources are available to challenge the common language, which may target groups based on race, disability, gender, age among others. 
  6. If you’re not sure, ask. We can never hold the answer to every situation and a great demonstration of a growth mindset towards inclusive language is asking when you are not sure. For example, this can look like asking about someone’s pronouns when you first meet them. 

Inclusive language in hiring is simply good business. By implementing the suggestions above, you are creating a better candidate experience and so both attracting and retaining diverse candidates. This will ultimately support your diverse recruitment strategy to create healthy and inclusive workplaces!

Discover Hireguide’s Inclusive and Fairer Interview Tools

Inclusive language in hiring is just the beginning of better, fairer interviews. Hireguide’s evidence-based questions, templates, answer guides and overall interview flow can help you to easily and fairly assess candidates’ skills. Try us for free today to start making better data-driven decisions!

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