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Are Your Job Posts Hurting Your Bottom Line?

Written by Judit Alvarez

on April 27, 2022

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Judit Alvarez

Are Your Job Posts Hurting Your Bottom Line? Let’s discuss inclusive hiring. 

Inclusive language in job posts is here to stay and you need to know why. In the last ten years, there has rarely been an HR conference that didn’t put diversity and inclusion high on the agenda. And still, here is one statistic that immediately showcases the difficulty leaders face when trying to create a more diverse workforce:‍

While 98% of employees reported that their company has established some form of a diversity programme according to BCG’s 2018 Global Diversity Survey, most companies still struggle to attract and retain diverse employees. This highlights that it’s still a way to go from setting diversity on the agenda to getting the results we want. As a recruitment platform, we wanted to get a better understanding of this issue.

Attracting candidates through language

According to both academic and commercial research, the language used by recruiters, the management and the employees themselves is one of the biggest factors when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. It can act as a barrier and make people feel like they don’t belong in a team. Or in contrast, if used mindfully, it can ensure an inclusive workplace and inclusive attitudes, boosting morale and creativity. This should by itself be a strong argument for why you should start focusing on doing inclusive language in job posts.

Jenifer Clausell-Tormos, CEO & Founder of Develop Diverse, explained why spell-checking for gender bias in your job ads is a must at TED x OdenseWomen. In addition, according to the 2018 Talent Board benchmark research, 69% of North American employers use diversity and culture marketing content to attract candidates. 74% per cent of EMEA employers and 86% of APAC employers are doing the same. And yet, North American candidates found diversity and cultural information valuable a mere 20% of the time.

This is why at The Hub, we did a collaboration with Develop Diverse, a Danish startup who have developed a web application to make recruitment and corporate communication more inclusive and therefore more welcoming to all talent available and employees. Develop Diverse ran their language analysis over 15,000 job descriptions in the Nordics to see if we could gain any insights on communication from the recruitment side.

As you’ll see, the results are surprising. But first, a quick reminder:

Why We Can’t Afford to Miss Out on a Diverse Talent Pool

The most famous paper on diversity and company performance is undoubtedly the McKinsey Diversity Matters study, which revealed the following insights:

  • Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above the national industry median.
  • A culturally diverse company increases customer satisfaction through better representation.
  • A 15% increase in diverse representation starts boosting work satisfaction levels for minority workers.

And yet, even with all these obvious benefits, the recipe to build a diverse workforce is still incomplete, which begs the question:

Why Does Language Matter?

We spoke with Line Pfeiffer Jørgensen Holter, a business psychologist with extensive knowledge about leadership and stereotypes, about why language matters:

“Our language is not neutral. It’s not a neutral reflection of the world around us. Instead, language not only creates our understanding of the world we live in but also forms our world. And the way we understand the world and our position in the world forms our actions. The words we choose create opportunities and limitations to our own and others’ behaviour. Words open doors and close doors. In that sense, the language is never ‘for free’.

This goes for all aspects of our lives. It is true for our business life, and it certainly also applies when we write job descriptions and job posts. So be mindful of your language. Think about what kind of ‘worldview’ you want to create. What kind of opportunities do you want to create? Which limitations do you seek to avoid? What kind of applicants do you want to attract? And how do you want your potential candidates to be able to act?”

What kind of applicants do you want to attract?

“Now, here is a thing to keep in mind: Language in job posts matters because they create assumptions about your company culture and leadership style. The reason is because of a cognitive shortcut. Our brains love to save energy. We can save energy if we can create understanding, and make up our minds, about new and unknown things quickly. Therefore, we tend to conclude from one context to another. If your job post is full of stereotyped, biased, and non-inclusive language, potential candidates will likely assume that’s also true for your company culture and leadership style. This, of course, might be true. But if not, what a shame it would be potentially to exclude qualified candidates by not emphasizing inclusive language in your job posts”, Line tells us.

Building your culture and your brand inclusive

When building your company culture and brand, Line says “In a study about attracting, engaging, developing and retaining female millennials, PwC found that 86% of female millennials and 74% of male millennials identified an employer’s policy on diversity, equality and workforce inclusion as important when deciding whether or not to work for an employer (source: “The female millennial: a new era of talent”, PwC, 2015).

As a start-up, now is when you build the foundation of your company culture and your company brand. If you can attract a diverse workforce, the chances are that you will create an open and inclusive company culture. In turn, this will determine your brand in the long run. Imagine if your company could become part of that top quartile for gender diversity, which is 15% more likely to have financial returns above the national industry median!” Line states.

The Develop Diverse Study

Keeping all these numbers and insights in mind, we at the Hub, as a leading growth and recruitment platform for startups asked ourselves the question: How inclusive is the communication we use in our startup ecosystem?

‍To answer this, we analyzed anonymized job posts from the cross-Nordics region including the countries Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland.

The Develop Diverse web app is built to detect the non-inclusive language in job posts and proposes inclusive alternatives. Currently, it detects three kinds of stereotypes: gender, age and ethnicity and it was used to analyze 15.386 job posts published at The Hub.

We ran each country’s set of ads through the Develop Diverse algorithm that gave us results based on:

  • Overall inclusivity score of the ad
  • Non-inclusive phrases in the ad (sorted by stereotype category)
  • Statistics about the non-inclusive language in the ad (percentage of stereotypical phrases (per category), the total amount of phrases, scores, etc.)

As each ad has multiple labels, we could also check these statistics per country, seniority and per department (tech, sales, design etc) and correlate those with each other. This gave us insight into pinpointing where the possible problem areas would be. Before reading the results, remember that according to Develop Diverse, a mere 0.6% of non-inclusive wording in the number of words can change whether the candidate will apply to your post or not.

Key Result

Key Result 1: Male Stereotypes in Language Across All Regions

The job posts include phrases that appeal more to male readers by 2.3%, for instance with words such as:

  • Strong (found in over 6000+ descriptions), such as in strong skills
  • Manage (3000+), e.g manage projects or tasks
  • Drive (3000), like in possessing a strong drive

The number was also higher for more executive positions, increasing by 0.5%. Consistent with research, female stereotypic language remained used at the same frequency for staff and management positions. This trend was clear across all countries and departments, suggesting that the language we use to attract talent to startup jobs is more appealing to men than women.

 2: Female Stereotypes in Language Exist Mostly Based on Department

This was particularly evident in positions relating to design or customer support. The bias towards feminine phrasing was at a 0.7 – 1% there. Here are three examples of female stereotypic phrases found everywhere:

  • Help (found in over 7000+ descriptions) instead of contributing to or support
  • Love ( 3000+), e.g. in love to serve customers
  • Passion ( 2000+)

Key Result 3: Age Stereotypes in Language Were More Present in Denmark and Sweden

This was reflected by the use of words such as:

  • Fast-paced: (found in 1400+ descriptions), e.g. a fast-paced office
  • Dynamic ( 1200+), for instance in a dynamic team
  • Young (1200), e.g. a young team, or a young spirited candidate

Key Result 4: Sweden Led the Way in Non-Gendered Language

While there was still a bias for masculine wording in Swedish job posts, it was lower than in other countries. Could this be due to the country’s use of the non-gendered pronoun?

When Inclusive Language in Your Job Posts Attract the Best Candidates

Diversity and inclusion can be understood in other terms: the idea of belonging within an inclusive and open company culture. And when it comes to your job post, it is the first talent touchpoint to portray that company culture.

‍So it makes sense that using stereotypic phrases can discourage people from joining your company; even if it is an unconscious way of phrasing.

Certain types of industries struggle to attract a more diverse talent base, such as the tech industry. A study Develop Diverse did with Amazon showcases how inclusive language can help an industry struggling to attract female candidates. By using the Develop Diverse web application, Amazon was able to attract up to 3 times as many qualified applicants, both male and female; and so close the gender gap for those jobs.

End the struggle to attract a more inclusive talent

An important takeaway when talking about inclusive language is that people from underrepresented backgrounds are not less strong, dynamic, ambitious or competitive. These candidates are just as qualified as others, but see that, just like in standard advertising, non-inclusive language projects an idea of inequality and relies on stereotypes, which prevents them from applying to the job post. This of course has very little to do with the individual values, qualities or skills of the applicants. Non-inclusive language affects candidates’ feeling of belonging; based on stereotypes they’ve internalized throughout their whole life from the society around them.

How Do You Leverage Inclusive Language?

Diversity and inclusion are increasingly seen as buzzwords in the world of recruitment when in reality they are necessities. Companies need a more diverse workforce; not only to challenge the status quo but also to grow and achieve sustainable success and profitability in a multicultural, connected world. In short, D&I isn’t just a nice thing to implement. It’s a competitive advantage every startup should leverage.

Yes, we know what you are probably thinking now: okay, sounds good, I get it, but how do I go from here? Here is how we believe you should put all the odds in your favour:

  • Consider both the content and the form of your ads: you probably try to include your diverse hiring policies. Make sure the language used to describe them isn’t skewed in terms of stereotypes concerning gender, age, ethnicity, being LGBT+, disabilities etc.
  • Leverage the power of employee stories: employee testimonies are a powerful tool, but it’s even more important to use them right. Avoiding gender or otherwise stereotypical content can ensure that you’re sending the image of inclusive work culture.
  • Don’t think some words are forbidden: sometimes, strong, passionate or fast-paced is what you need. Just make sure they’re used sparingly, without conveying a sense of a homogenous work environment.
  • Say what you mean: oftentimes the stereotypic words are the ones that don’t convey much meaning about the exact qualities you’re looking for in a candidate. Think about what “strong skills” or  “dynamic personality” mean to you in the particular job and say that instead. Buzzwords take away the attention from the main requirements of a job description since they centre cliché/jargon words instead. As a consequence, a job post full of clichés or jargon is more likely to attract people who identify with those words, instead of candidates who fulfil the requirements.

In the end, the entire team behind The Hub found this report highly revealing. Sometimes we can be blindsided in the ways we choose to communicate. We’ll be using these insights with our users and audiences, and we hope you are too when crafting a message that truly reflects your startup. Want to learn more about doing inclusive hiring?

Our business psychology expert:

Line Pfeiffer Jørgensen Holter, Business Psychologist, Holter Consulting

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