Robyn Carney, Hirewell’s DEI Sourcing Operations Lead, sits down with Camille Knapik Balch to discuss inclusive job descriptions. They discuss the differences between an inclusive and non-inclusive JD, terms that indicate a toxic work culture and provide insight into making job descriptions more inclusive.
Hey, Robyn. How are you?
Hi, Camille. I’m good. How are you?
Good. Well, I’m excited that we’re going to talk about inclusive and non-inclusive job descriptions today. I feel like before I joined HireWell and met you, I didn’t really know much about that. Whenever I’d look at job descriptions, I would see terms and be asked questions in interviews and I would be like, “Well, this doesn’t feel right. I don’t think this should be there.” But until I met you, I didn’t know a lot of this stuff, so I’m really excited for you to share your knowledge with everybody.
I’m excited to share knowledge too. I’ve learned a lot about inclusive and exclusive and non-inclusive job descriptions over my time here at HireWell and previous roles I’ve been in. There’s some really great people out there who are doing some amazing work when it comes to researching why job descriptions can be inclusive or non-inclusive. So, I’m very excited to talk about it.
Well, to start us off, can you describe the difference between an inclusive job description and non-inclusive job description?
Yes. So, a lot of people think that non-inclusive job description just means going through and removing any gendered language. Like easy red flags of like you shouldn’t have “he” or “him” when referring to the candidate in the job description, right? You should use the gender-neutral “they.” A lot of people are like, okay, that’s clear. That’s easy. We do that. Now our job description’s inclusive. And it’s like, nope. It kind of digs in a little deeper than that. There’s a few different things that you need to be thinking about when you’re looking at a job description to see whether or not it’s inclusive.
So, gender’s like the tip of the iceberg when it comes to language and how language is used in your JD (Job Description). So, talking about gendered words that go beyond “he” or “him”, there are certain words that encourages different parts of the population to apply. Not just in terms of gender, but also, certain terms might be repellent to somebody who comes from a different background than the person who wrote the JD. So, that is one of the big things, looking at specifically the language of the job description.
Then the other thing is, this is different when it comes to different job descriptions, some job descriptions think of themselves as a complete to-do list of absolutely everything you’re ever going to do, and it makes it overwhelming. There’s a list of like six pages worth of content, right? And it’s just, checklist after checklist, of things that you’re going to be doing. And sometimes that can be very helpful for people, but later in the interview process. Job descriptions are ads, you know? You’re putting out information. You’re saying, “hey, would you be interested in coming to work for us?” So instead of saying like, “this is the giant list of things you’ll have to do.” Focusing on what are the most important things. What are the key things that you want candidates to know about the role? Like, what changes are they going to be making? What kind of things are they going to be working on that might be exciting or interesting? Be honest. You never want to put out a JD that’s just like all the fun and interesting stuff, and then you hit ’em with everything that’s not fun.
So you do need to be honest, but you don’t need to be like “you’ll send emails every day.” Like, okay, thank you. You also need to be cognizant when you’re creating a job description, that the role you’re looking for, exists. Sometimes when you’re doing a back fill of a very unique person, those job descriptions can be incredibly not inclusive because you’re actually trying to find two people. That can be very frustrating for the recruiter, the hiring manager, and any candidates that apply.
And the last one, it’s very simple: key accommodation things. Everybody puts that thing on the bottom that says we are an equal opportunity employer, but sometimes people will put the “you have to lift a 30-pound box.” Do you have to lift a 30- pound box? I’ve worked in many offices in my life, I think the most I’ve ever picked up is five pounds. That’s just because I like picking up heavy things sometimes.
So, accommodations can be, something that can be hinted at in JDs. Sometimes if you have something like the warning about the 30-pound label, it can be very clear. Things like, is there a college degree required? Why? Let’s talk about it. So those are the kind of things that when you get into thinking about JDs that you need to think about.
Thank you, Robyn. I know before I started at HireWell and I was applying for jobs, I would always see terms like unicorn. We’re looking for a rock star, we’re looking for this superhero who can do all this, all this tech stuff, and just a unicorn. We know you’re out there and comfortable in the fast paced environment. Could you talk a little bit about why those terms shouldn’t be used in job descriptions?
Well, some of the terms can get a little cliche. So whenever I see those terms, I think it’s a red flag all the time. Whenever I see a term where somebody’s like, we’re looking for a rockstar, it’s like, okay, why are you looking for a rockstar? Like, what do you think that you’re looking for a rockstar specifically? So it could be, some people are just trying to be fun and having like a joke.
But, this can be a red flag that indicates like a toxic work environment. Like if you need to be a superhero for everything, you know, it kind of sets the bar too high and puts this role on a pedestal that nobody can quite apply or manage. There’ll be a specific population that is not scared away by this. So like for example, you know, if you are putting out a JD and it’s filled with like information like this. There’s a study done that white men are more likely to apply to a job if they don’t have all the requirements versus somebody who might come from an underrepresented background or a woman might not apply.
So if you’re setting the role on a pedestal, you’re going to kind of skew the results a little bit and also indicate that toxic work culture. You don’t want to indicate a toxic work culture which is a very thin line to thread with JDs. If you say we’re very cool and chill here, that’s indicating a different type of energy that is also not chill.
When I’ve seen that they say that they’re looking for a rock star unicorn, usually means that they’re looking for one person to do like three people’s workload and that just sounds way too overwhelming. So then I didn’t even apply to it so.
It goes back to that back fill. Like if you have somebody who is leaving the company and you’re trying to replace that person who has grown into a role and taken on such a unique set of responsibilities.
If you’re trying to replace that person, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You need to like take a look at their workload and say like, okay, which of these can go to people who already exist at the company? Or do I need to hire separate people for this role? Also, you know, you shouldn’t have to be a rock-star every single day. You should be able to kind of just show up and give it your best. Not everybody can be Mick Jagger, you know. It takes a certain type of liver for that kind of life.
Yes. And I know what we already are kind of touching on this, but just about how non-inclusive job descriptions can be daunting for candidates to apply and it will actually drive them away. I know you talked about kind of making the company’s culture clear and just that toxicity coming through the job description.
Is there anything else you wanted to add to that?
Yeah, I mean, so this is where gendered language can really come in handy, like looking for gendered language beyond “he”, “him” in the JD, just like trying to root out. There’s a lot of different software out there that helps you kind of identify different gender terms and like pulling them out.
But this is where you can kind of see a little bit of an indicator of your own work culture and like what your work culture approves of, right? So, what is encouraged at your work culture. So if your JD is very aggressive, you got to hit these numbers and you got to do great and you do this, and you’re going to be doing this by your second week, and it’s going to be like so cool and so great. A lot of people are going to be like, that sounds terrible. Which, you know, as a hiring manager, you might be like, well, I want to drive away anybody who isn’t ready for that workload.
Then you got to kind of analyze where you’re coming from there. Take a step back and think, okay, what is wrong with my work culture here and why aren’t people interested in it? Specifically, anybody from an underrepresented background or women. There’s also some beyond, like the cliches that, you know, we’ve talked about in talent insights we’ve talked about in other places.
There’s some other low-hanging cliches that you shouldn’t use in a JD because it indicates a toxic workplace culture, even though on the surface they are very chill. So like for example, saying we’re like a family here. Like, I wouldn’t want to work with my family. I don’t know if you would, Camille, but I would not want to work with my family.
Or you know, saying something like, we are looking for somebody who’s looking to go above and beyond. Indicating that they’re looking for somebody who’s willing to work more than the 40-hour hour work week. Well then, if your job can’t be done within the 40-hour hour work week, you might need to analyze your own JD and your own requirements for your various roles.
And also saying competitive salary, we all know that when you say competitive salary, you mean competitive with the bottom. I’ve worked at companies that, do actually pay a competitive salary and use the phrase competitive salary. Unfortunately, that has just been co-opted and ruined so what can we do? You know? Anyways, the uncool kids ruined it for the rest of us.
So, kind of wrapping all of that up, do you have any suggestions or tools or resources? Or where people can go hiring managers or recruiters just to educate themselves about how to make it more inclusive and how to teach hiring managers and other coworkers about this topic?
Yes. So like I said, when it comes to gendered language, there’s a lot of really cool platforms and technology out there. I will drop some recommendations in the comments. But when it comes to inclusivity, the quick fix is: (1) making sure that you do actually have an equal opportunity employer statement on your JD, because that alone can really indicate some great things in that you’re following the law.
Like go through with a fine-tooth comb and make sure that any requirements that are on your page are not exclusive in terms of, you know, do you actually need a college degree to do this job? Or is that in there just because college degrees are expected?
You actually need to pick up a 30-pound box? No, you do not. Think about other accommodations that would be offered. And then lastly, one of the things that I really like is, making sure that you put a statement on your JD at the bottom, something to the effect of “Hey. Listen, imposter syndrome is real. You don’t have to have all of the hundred bullet points that we have listed here. But if you are interested in the role and interested in the company, please apply.” Sometimes when you are interviewing with somebody who has very interesting backgrounds, they can be a fit in ways that you might have never even realized.
Which is great. The more that recruiters and hiring managers approach a JD with an open mind versus, “this is how it’s always been done and this is how we always do it.” The more likely you are to create, a more diverse and inclusive environment.
Thank you, Robyn.
Thank you, Camille. I’ll talk to you later.
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