Inclusive Language Guides Oversimplify Language and Job Postings

Recruiting research firm Datapeople reports that an inclusive language guide oversimplifies language and job posts, which can lead to incorrect assumptions on the part of hiring teams.

An inclusive language guide is a list of words that are supposedly ‘inclusive’ or ‘exclusive’ meant to help writers avoid exclusionary language. While having an inclusive language guide may sound reasonable if certain words deter some job seekers from applying, Datapeople says it doesn’t make sense.

“The idea that you can create inclusive job postings from a list of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ words is too simplistic,” says Datapeople spokesperson Charlie Smith. “Words aren’t inherently inclusive or exclusive by themselves. Context matters. The context of the words within the text itself and also in a job seeker’s life. Furthermore, there are many ways to say the same thing, and the sentiments behind words matter too.”

Including certain words in a job posting doesn’t make it inclusive, Datapeople says. There are too many factors in a job posting and in a candidate’s decision-making process. Hiring teams can’t simply point to one word or another as the reason a job seeker did or did not fill out an application. Data science that purports to isolate and measure the impact of individual words simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

According to Datapeople, many things impact the performance of a job posting. Including diversity statements can increase a job post’s inclusiveness in the eyes of job seekers. Keeping job posts to an appropriate length and widely disseminating them on the right job boards can increase applications from qualified candidates. And the titles hiring teams choose can actually make or break the entire process. None of those factors has solely to do with word choice.

An inclusive language guide can’t address the various nuances of language, Datapeople says. Gendered pronouns, for example, aren’t inherently bad (e.g., ‘Our founder started her company in 2006…’). They’re only bad when used to describe a hypothetical applicant (e.g., ‘The account executive will pursue potential customers in his territory…’).

Sentiment also matters. According to Datapeople, removing the word ‘competitive’ doesn’t help if a job posting then conveys the same sentiment with another word or phrase. Requirements including a ‘drive to win’ or ‘desire to outshine peers’ encodes the idea of competitiveness without using that word.

While idioms can be harmless figures of speech, they can also create unnecessary confusion for job seekers, Datapeople says. Consider ‘go the extra mile’ versus ‘last-mile delivery.’ People familiar with both of these idioms wouldn’t confuse them for each other. But someone relatively new to an industry where ‘last-mile’ is a meaningful concept might.

Datapeople says it’s important for hiring teams to treat job descriptions as holistic documents – many parts coming together to create a whole.


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