Updated: Oct 16
Guest writer Thea Bardot breaks down the importance of inclusive language in recruitment and hiring.
Cultivating a sense of belonging and recognition through your communications is crucial in recruiting. The signals you send – however subtle – through the language you do and don’t use tell candidates everything they need to know about whether your business is an employer of choice. Will they feel welcome in your company? Will they be supported? Will they be safe?
“Inclusive language proactively recognises differences and the diversity that makes us who we are and demonstrates that we respect, value and support individuals through the language we use. This in turn enhances and accelerates a workplace culture to be more inclusive and creates that sense of belonging as individuals hear themselves and see themselves in communications.” - Fiona Daniel, CEO and Founder of D&I consultancy FD2i
In fact, the 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey found candidates often turn down opportunities as a result of the impression formed by language that is used in interviews, stating they can often tell whether an organisation has clear policies just through the tone and phrasing recruitment panels use. With millennials expected to make up 43% of the global workforce, I say ignore at your peril.
At its most basic, inclusive language means avoiding expressions or words that could exclude particular groups of people. But how does that look in practice? Here are the principles you should be implementing on your website, job descriptions and listings, social posts, ads, and recruiting conversations:
1. Remove coded language from job descriptions, moving towards more gender-neutral phrasing:
Ambitious or Competitive → Forward-thinking / Growth mindset / (Has a) Vision
Assertive → Ability to articulate vision and ideas clearly
Driven → Motivated / Enthusiastic / Positive / Passionate
Never presume a person’s gender in a job ad. The best solution would be to become used to referring to potential candidates as “they” instead of “he”/ “she.”
2. Make pronouns an integral part of communications and outreach:
If you want to attract top talent, getting comfortable with pronouns is a surefire way to make many people feel more seen and welcome. Check all your recruitment forms to have the option to state pronouns, make sure your recruiting team includes theirs in their email signatures and on messaging platforms, and introduce yours at the interview to make candidates feel more at ease doing the same.
3. Avoid culturally-insensitive language:
Some phrases that have crept into our everyday vocabulary have dark historical context and implications. “Slaving away,” ”cracking the whip,” “blacklist” and “whitelist,” “guru,” “minorities” (as opposed to “marginalised people”), “peanut gallery,” “pow wow” and “tribal knowledge” are all related to ethnicity, race, nationality, and culture, acting as an unconscious signal that alienates some candidates. Comb your copy for sneaky slip-ups and be prepared to (gently) correct colleagues who use them.
4. Be clear in your messaging:
Using metaphors that are specific to just one culture or class – such as English idioms including “raining cats and dogs,” "ballpark figure" or "piece of cake" – can put non-native English speakers on the back foot. Phrases like “awfully good” can also be mind-boggling for anyone on the neurodivergent spectrum. You don’t have to lose all the personality from your copy; just consider if you’re giving all candidates a fair chance of understanding the messages you’re putting out into the world.
5. Do away with language that promotes ableism:
Misused descriptors to describe behaviour that doesn’t relate to mental health in casual conversation can signify all the wrong things about a company’s culture of inclusivity. To avoid this, make these easy swaps:
Blindspot → Missed opportunity
Crazy or Psycho → Ridiculous, unbelievable, unheard of, outrageous
OCD → Fastidious
Lame → Uncool or cheesy
Walkthrough → Review or guide through
In addition to all of these different elements, the strength of an organisation’s internal Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policies and working culture, as proven by the inclusive nature of a recruitment process will have an influence on top diverse candidates’ decision to accept an offer of employment:
“Devising a comprehensive DEI strategy helps you to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, demonstrates that you are listening and that you care, provides access to the broadest pool of candidates when it comes to recruitment, creates loyalty among your existing employees – the list goes on!” - Aby Hawker, Founder and CEO of TransMission PR.
But beware social-washing! Committing to inclusive practices in your business should come from a genuine desire to better the organisation and support marginalised people - authenticity is key!
Thea Bardot (they/she)
Thea is the non-binary finery and ADHD babe behind the disruptive Lightning Travel Recruitment brand. With their powerful voice and captivating storytelling, Thea has emerged as a 'top voice' on LinkedIn, recognised as one of the top 10 LGBTIA Voices in the UK, and named one of 5 LinkedIn creators to follow by PinkNews in 2023.
You can find more information about Thea here.
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