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How to Write Inclusive Job Adverts

An inclusive job ad is the first step towards building a diverse workforce. Here are our top tips for writing the perfect ad.

The importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace can hardly be overstated. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, businesses that rank in the top-quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity, outperform those in the bottom quartile by 36% in profitability. This emphasises the importance of diversity not just as an ethical concept but as a veritable force to drive business growth.

The first step towards inclusive hiring is writing an inclusive job advert. This is because a job advert is the primary point of contact between businesses and the talent they’re trying to attract. According to a Glassdoor report, 76% of job seekers consider a company’s DE&I policy when considering a job offer. This statistic further highlights the importance of creating messaging that actively avoids language or expressions that may seem exclusionary by leaving out certain groups.

In this blog we’ll look at some of the top tips for writing inclusive job adverts that attract the best talent and mitigate both conscious and unconscious biases.

1. Avoid a long list of ‘essential’ criteria

Men are more likely to apply to a job if they meet 60% of the criteria whilst women opt out of the application unless they meet 100% of the requirements. This stat originally emerged in a Hewlett Packard study and has since been quoted by multiple reputable sources like Forbes and Harvard Business Review. It highlights the different ways in which men and women respond to new opportunities, which often stem from deep-rooted systemic biases.

For instance, according to a study by Frontiers in Psychology, men are more likely to get promoted based on the potential they show whilst women need to prove their performance to be considered.

Biases like these promote a mindset where a majority of women feel they need to demonstrate their eligibility for a role – more than their male peers.

A job ad that includes a long list of ‘essential’ criteria inadvertently discourages a sizeable majority of applicants – in this case women – who feel they don’t make the cut and so self-eliminate themselves from the process.  

A long list of essential requirements is also a deterrent for applicants who haven’t had the chance to build up all of the listed skills. They could be young graduates or people looking to transition to a new career or even return to work after a career break. This by no means shows that they can’t pick up these skills.

If a business has the capacity to train new hires in specific skills within a reasonable timeframe, it’s best to leave these skills off the essential criteria to avoid overlooking some great talent.

2. Use inclusive pronouns

Most recruiters by now know not to use pronouns like ‘he’ and ‘she’ in a job advert, and instead choose gender neutral terms like ‘you’ and ‘they’. However, there are other less-obvious terms and expressions you could be using that may be subconsciously considered more feminine or masculine.

According to a report by the BBC, the word ‘manage’ is more likely to get responses from male applicants whilst women are more inclined to want to ‘develop’ a team.  

Certain gender-coded words can give the impression that a company is encouraging applications from a specific gender for this role. For example – words like ‘coding ninja’, a popular term for accomplished coders that originated in Silicon Valley is considered a masculine-stereotype.

Similarly, words like ‘competitive’ and ‘leader’ are also considered masculine while terms like ‘interpersonal’ and ‘support’ have a feminine association.

This Gender Decoder Tool is a great way to check which words to avoid to keep your job advert gender neutral.  

3. Avoid asking for experience in the same role

Some companies specifically require applicants to have prior experience in the same role that they’re applying to. For example – a business may list ‘5 years’+ experience working in a project management role using Agile and Waterfall methodologies with PRINCE 2 certification’.

This automatically disqualifies applicants who don’t meet those exact criteria. This could be an applicant who has extensive experience in a different area of business – like marketing – and now wants to make a transition into project management.

Organisations should instead focus on transferrable skills that match the requirements of the job. For example – effective communication, critical thinking and complex problem solving are key project management skills. The question recruiters should ask themselves is: can someone possessing the same skills do the job, despite not having formal experience in a project manager role?

Professionals from varied backgrounds and experiences move into highly successful project management roles using their transferrable skills. FDM’s Ex-Forces Programme provides training in project management to veterans who can use their transferrable skills from the military to scrum master training.

4. Mention reasonable adjustments for applicants with disabilities

Research shows that disabled students are 10% more likely to have low academic expectations than their non-disabled peers with similar school performance. To champion true inclusivity, organisations need to be sensitive to the needs of disabled applicants and mention offers of reasonable adjustments to facilitate their application process.

Ensuring the accessibility of job adverts is important to ensure they can be read by the widest group of applicants across varying abilities.  

The formatting of job adverts is particularly important for applicants with dyslexia. The British Dyslexia Association recommends using certain colours and fonts like Comic Sans, Calibri, Arial, or Verdana as easier to read than other fonts. They advise avoiding underlining and italics, and instead using Bold to emphasise a point. The suggested font size is 12-14 points.

In addition to this, organisation could also consider alternative methods like braille and audio recordings to make their job adverts more accessible.

5. Avoid asking for a degree

The cost of tuition fees for the majority of degrees in England is over £9,200 annually. Add to that an average cost of living of £11,000 per year and we’re looking at a total cost of over £60,000 for a three-year degree. In this scenario, it’s not surprising that an increasing number of young people are looking for alternative options after leaving school.

By making a university degree a pre-requisite in a job application, companies are in a sense rejecting those who can’t afford hefty university fees. It’s important to assess the reasons for requiring a degree. Afterall, it is the skills and knowledge that a person has that’s important for a business.  

6. Avoid language that promotes cultural or linguistic biases

A number of job adverts mention ‘Native English speaker’ or ‘strong English language skills’ in their job description. This kind of language promotes biases and discourages non-natives from applying. It’s also important to state the company’s commitment to DE&I. In addition to the standard statement of being an Equal Opportunities Employer, it’s more meaningful to have a more personalised message.

An example from FDM –

“Diversity and inclusion are at the heart of what we value as an organisation. FDM Group is an equal opportunities employer and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability or any other status protected by law. Our recruitment team are happy to support with any reasonable adjustments that are needed within the recruitment process.”

7. Avoid language that may exclude older or younger applicants

Similar to gender-coded language, there are terms which have ageist connotations and can be discriminatory against certain age groups. For example – expressions like ‘recent graduates’ almost immediately disqualifies mature candidates. Similarly, expressions like ‘work hard, party hard’ and ‘tech savvy’ give the impression of the company being better suited for young employees.

With one third of UK’s working population being over the age of 50, it’s important for companies to align their messaging to be inclusive to this age group.

On the other hand, younger applicants too can be subject to bias. Job ads that mention terms like ‘highly experienced’ and ‘extensive portfolio’ also become a barrier for younger candidates.

Georgios Stagianos from the Consultant Experience Team at FDM Group says, ‘at FDM we provide fair and equal opportunities for all candidates regardless of their specific educational background or experience, focusing on their potential, skills and aiming at creating a diverse and inclusive environment where people thrive through learning and innovation.’

All those involved in our hiring process undergo unconscious bias training and adopt approaches like CV-blind interviewing. In 2021, we focused our training on interview engagement with neuro-diverse candidates to ensure a level playing field.

Check out our Services to find out how FDM can help you build a truly diverse talent pipeline.

About Preeta Ghoshal

Preeta is a content writer with over 10 years’ experience across print, digital and broadcast media. She has worked extensively in multi-media content creation. Her work reflects a mix of subject matter research and storytelling to produce content that is both informative and easily digestible. She is presently providing content support to each of the FDM programmes and the wider marketing team.


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