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Building an Equitable Workplace Culture Starts with Inclusive Job Descriptions

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June 15, 2022Hiring Recruiting Jobs Candidates Interview Tips

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Diversity, equity, and inclusion will remain one of the most important areas of focus for businesses in this ever-changing professional landscape. However, many companies are facing challenges when it comes to finding and retaining the talent they seek.

The phrase, “Actions speak louder than words”, is completely applicable to companies who solely rely on opting for a rainbow logo during Pride month to communicate a corporate culture that values LGBTQIA+ equality. It’s just not enough. Businesses must think about building an equitable workplace holistically and all year round, not just for one month. Creating an inclusive environment can come from producing content, thought-leadership from team members, representation in marketing materials, and hosting events or panels, but most importantly, it comes from the focus on building a diverse team and who companies hire. 

 

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Actions are a requirement for building a supportive environment, and that can start with taking a look at the way your company is presenting itself to and interacting with candidates. The art of writing inclusive job descriptions is one of the most important tools a company can learn in order to attract the diverse talent they seek. 

We are sharing insights and tips from Nick Lush, Hunt Club’s Manager of Training, on writing impactful, inclusive job descriptions and how they can benefit both candidates and companies throughout the hiring process and beyond. 

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Crafting Inclusive Job Descriptions

Every company needs job descriptions—they’re the table stakes part of the search process. With the recent shortage trends of qualified talent, the hiring landscape now must cater to the needs of the candidate. More and more candidates will not settle for opportunities unless they align with their core values. According to the Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, 74% of millennial employees believe their organization is more innovative when it has a culture of inclusion, and 47% actively look for diversity and inclusion when sizing up potential employers. The way you craft job descriptions is not only the first step in creating a more inclusive culture but might also be the first impression your company has on a prospective candidate. “Think about a job description like the way you would a dating profile. Try to write it in a way that acts as a window into your culture,” Nick notes. 

Step 1: Understand the Impact of Gender-Coded Words

Most of the time, the common job description focuses on what a company wants from a candidate, as an individual and their contributions. When framing it in such a way, it often leads employers to use language that puts an emphasis on “self-starters”. However, more often than not, these aren’t the types of candidates or mindsets that would truly benefit their team. Today, especially in the tech industry, teams are seeking people who can facilitate effective collaboration between different departments, or contribute holistic ways of thinking around product development whereas self-described “self-starters” can sometimes be prone to lone wolf approaches to projects 

A lot of us are familiar with the finding from the Hewlett Packard internal report, that female-identifying candidates only apply to jobs if they feel they meet 100% of the qualifications listed in the role description, whereas male-identifying individuals apply when they only meet 60% of them. Words, sometimes even just a single word, have the power to move people. It’s crucial to understand the origins and undertones words possess when using them to reach the desired audience.

Using action words that are perceived as being coded in masculinity will often deter applicants who don’t identify as male. When looking for a motivated leader, companies will often use, for example, words like:

  • Ambitious
  • Assertive
  • Autonomous
  • Decisive
  • Determined
  • Dominant 
  • Outspoken 

When writing inclusive job descriptions, it’s important to really think about the qualities of a candidate that will serve your team. It’s not wrong to want to look for a motivated leader for your team, but using words rooted in neutrality and femininity will better speak to a more diverse and accurate audience. For example, use words like:

  • Collaborative
  • Interpersonal 
  • Committed
  • Cross-functional
  • Dependable
  • Trustworthy
  • Responsible

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Nick’s advice when it comes to using gender-coded language— “I do what I can to make sure the language I use in my job descriptions skews more feminine than anything. I see where the argument would be to make it skew neutral, but if we factor in male-identifying people who are more likely to be applying to a job if they feel like it’s a fit at all, then even at neutral, I expect my pool to be more heavily people who are male-identifying. So, I want it to be as encouraging as possible to female and non-binary identifying people.” 

As the awareness around the impact of gender-coded words increases, helpful tools like Textio and Gender Decoder are being implemented by recruiters to bring more insights into writing inclusive job descriptions.   

Believe it or not, words like Ninja, Wizard, Guru, or Rock Star are coded in masculinity too. Although it feels like they may add a bit of personality to a job description, these words just end up blurring the expectations of the role. It’s a hard task for any company to be able to promote and nurture the growth of a Wizard. Additionally, candidates are often wary of words that feel overly specialized to a given company, as they have concerns that they would need to explain what that means to potential future employers. It’s hard to explain what a social media ninja is to someone at a company that just has social media managers.

 

Step 2: Ask the Right Questions 

A common misconception is that a job description is a list of things that a candidate should have already accomplished in their experience in order to be right for the role. While it may be easiest to look at what other companies have done in the past to measure if a candidate is qualified, this also makes it easy to fall into the trap of bias. By subconsciously importing the assumptions from other companies, you’ll limit your talent pool down to people who only have the same, specific background. 

To reframe our thinking, Nick suggests asking the following questions:

  • What are the outcomes we want this person to produce for our business? 
  • What would make this person successful? 
  • What might make someone less successful?
  • What would make their job meaningful to our business? 
  • Where could someone have acquired the skills that have made them successful? 
  • How can we factor that into the way that we go about searching for this role?

Questions like these that dig deeper, add clarity, and intention will ultimately help companies widen their nets to bring in talent with valuable, diverse perspectives. Nick added—“There is business value in having people who come from different communities on staff because they can represent viewpoints that you haven’t considered before. They can provide access to new markets, and help you define a product better to fit user needs across a variety of spectrums.” It’s crucial for employers not to shy away from asking these questions, because they may spark important conversations that typically lead to building a more inclusive future and a more innovative present. 

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Upholding Inclusivity During the Hiring Process and Beyond

Diversity is one of the top priorities for Hunt Club when it comes to finding talent. Rather than checking a box to reach a diversity quota for a year, consider how crucial it is to seek a deeper understanding so that you can make an impact and real difference in your business and in the world. In a conversation with Nick about how Hunt Club helps facilitate a more inclusive hiring process with clients, he noted: “Sometimes people talk about diversity as an adjective that applies to an individual, where diversity is actually a measure of a collective—and the level of representation of various groups within that collective.”

A good practice Hunt Club adopted for bringing greater clarity of purpose to diversity and inclusion during a search is to ask probing questions such as:

  • What do diversity and inclusion mean to you?
  • What does your current headcount look like demographically? 
  • Where are you deficient in representing the markets and communities you are trying to serve? 
  • Where can we focus our efforts?

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The second important piece is to align with clients on what happens post-hire. Although a lot of our touch-points end after a search is closed, we focus our efforts on leading holistic conversations around how a candidate will be supported once they’re a part of the team. 

It’s natural and essential for candidates to ask questions about this during the interview process, especially if the team they’re interviewing with is non-diverse. “If you’re being asked questions in your interviews that are making you uncomfortable, that’s a lesson you should be talking to your HR department about and asking what are we doing about this? Why don’t we have good answers to these questions? Why haven’t we thought about this more? Just like the interviewing process is an opportunity to learn about the candidate you’re interviewing, it’s also an opportunity to learn more about your business,” Nick noted from experience. 

While they can be uncomfortable conversations to have for some, it’s vital to have them. Fostering honesty and transparency on both client and candidate sides will not only help businesses retain diverse talent but can build foundations for an inclusive culture within a growing company too. There will always be room for improvement and growth. Candidates will often appreciate transparency and candor regarding those areas for improvement rather than a series of buzzwords. 

Empowering the Candidate

From the hunt to the application and interview process, finding a new role can be nerve-racking for candidates, especially those within the LGBTQIA+ community. With recent studies showing that 20% of LGBTQIA+ Americans have experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity when applying for jobs, it’s easy to understand why. 

Setting proper boundaries empowers candidates to control the narrative of their career growth. When asked about his own personal journey on boundary setting while seeking new job opportunities, Nick shared his experience:

“When I started going into interviews knowing I was queer and knowing that it was important to me to be in an environment that is inclusive and supportive of people from all different backgrounds, I put a lot of thought into where are my hard lines to draw if it’s not the right culture fit for me.”

“I would try to wear an outfit that was representative of what I thought was work-appropriate but also have things on that communicated how I identify. Whether that’s wearing jewelry, having painted fingernails, or wearing heels, that was my small way of signaling that early on and to see what the reaction was.”

 

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As candidates approach the point in the interview process where an offer might be in the near future, Nick advocates: “Escalate the level of conversations that outline your mental and emotional needs to understand what a company has in store for you there.”

 

Candidate Tips for Inclusive Boundary Setting During the Hiring Process

Boundary setting is a powerful first step in finding the right fit. It’s not always easy, but the more it’s practiced and integrated into the search and interview process, the less daunting it will become. The learning goes both ways when we work with talent to help them find their next opportunity. As we focus on creating an environment where candidates can be honest about their goals and experiences, they teach us how we can better help them stay true to the boundaries they set. 

Here are some tips for practicing boundary-setting before and during the hiring process:

  1. Do your research: look up recent articles about the company in question, look at their reviews, look at your network and see if you have any peers who have worked there you could reach out to for some background information
  2. Outline personal career-growth goals and use them to refer to when analyzing opportunities
  3. Have honest conversations with talent partners about goals and non-negotiables
  4. Ask candid and clarifying questions regarding your own interests or requirements during every stage of the process
  5. Look up who is interviewing you and have some questions ready for them pertaining to their perspective and role within the company
  6. Prioritize mental and emotional needs as well as skill-building goals
  7. Be honest with yourself whether you think a company is a good fit for you specifically
  8. Be ready to pass on an opportunity that doesn’t feel right

Always Keep Growing

From the words used in the job description to the conversations had during the interview process, candidates will always be reading between the lines when it comes to inclusivity. While the job descriptions you write are a major first step in communicating an inclusive culture, “The job description only matters as long as it’s backed up by the rest of the culture that your company is trying to build,” Nick concluded. 

As the lines between work and home life have blurred over the recent years, the need for the space and ability to bring our full selves to work has only intensified. Creating a supportive environment is essential to attracting and retaining top talent. Understanding the power of language, asking intentional questions, and acknowledging that there is always room to grow is the key to building a bright, inclusive future. 

Grow a more inclusive team with Hunt Club. 

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Sydney Fine avatarSydney Fine