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Inclusive Job Descriptions and How to Write Them

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

Congrats! You’ve written a job description for your new company position. But, is it biased? Research shows that the hiring process, from posting a job description to applicant onboarding, is biased and unfair. Oftentimes, the bias stems from unconscious racism, sexism, and ageism. To combat this and make workplaces more inclusive, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts have been critical to successful companies. What are components of inclusive job descriptions? How can you write one for your company? Follow these guidelines to not only create a more diverse and qualified applicant pool, but also ensure that every applicant feels excited and welcome to apply.

ESSENTIAL FUNCTIONS: HOW TO WRITE THEM The essential functions component of the job description are the set of basic job duties that are expected of an employee. It often consists of a list of tasks that the applicant must be able to perform with or without reasonable accommodations. Here are five tips to help you write effective, concise, and unbiased essential functions.

Double check that all functions are truly essential

Keep functions to a minimum. If you write too many functions, you can inadvertently turn away qualified applicants who believe they do not check all of the boxes. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) uses the following factors to determine if a function is truly essential:

  • Prior to the publishing of an opening, the employer deems the function as essential

  • Current company employees exhibit the functions

  • The entirety of the job is based on the function

  • Amount of time spent on performing the function

  • Consequences of not performing the function

  • Whether other employees are also available to perform the function

  • Degree of expertise and skill required to perform the function

Focus on the goal of the job, not the method If your essential functions focus entirely on the method of performance, you may turn down qualified applicants who achieve their goals differently. Encourage creativity and diverse thinking! By following this guideline, you can also avoid the risk of adding accidental bias to your job descriptions. For example, the function, “must be able to walk from Point A to B,” can turn away those with disabilities. If it is only essential that the applicant can “travel” from Point A to B, write that as your function instead of “walk.”

Be clear and concise A general rule of thumb is to begin each function with an action verb in the first-person, present tense. This includes verbs like analyze, write, design, research, and compile. Wherever possible, include specific examples of functions that can have two meanings when interpreted differently. It’s best to also include definitions to uncommon abbreviations, as well as quantify ambiguous terms like “many” and “large.” For example, how many hours a week does “dedicate a large time commitment” mean? These are ideas to keep in mind.

Include language pertaining to DEI efforts Take your company’s DEI efforts to the next level in your essential functions list. Express functions that reflect your company’s DEI goals. This means that your functions should be concrete and measurable to progress your company’s efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in your work environment. This also means that you should avoid gender-coded words and bias. More on that later.

Ask for internal company feedback Request a second pair of eyes to review your list to ensure that it follows the above criterias of successful essential functions. Your company’s employment research groups (ERGs) can be a good starting point.

THE GENERAL JOB DESCRIPTION: HOW TO WRITE THEM The general job description is often the first thing potential applicants read. Therefore, it’s important that this section is free from unconscious bias and discriminatory language. Follow these guidelines when writing your next general job description:

Avoid gender bias and gender-coded words Research shows that women, on average, are 30 percent less likely to be invited for a job interview than men who have the same qualifications. Gender bias also translates into job descriptions containing unconscious bias. For example, if a job description includes gender-coded words, many potential applicants may turn away from applying despite being more than qualified. Female-coded words to avoid include affectionate, nurture, sensitive, and empathetic. Similarly, avoid male-coded words like assertive, dominant, battle, and outspoken. Finally, double check that the job description only contains essential requirements in order to further eliminate potential gender bias.

Eliminate racial bias Similarly to gender bias, recruiters and HR professionals may unknowingly exhibit racial bias when writing job descriptions. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of national origin and race. Therefore, wherever applicable, replace “must speak good English” with “excellent communication skills required.” Replace “Spanish speaking” with “bilingual in English/Spanish required.” Finally, replace “legal citizens only” with “must be authorized to work in the United States.” These are the most common phrases that perpetuate racial bias to avoid, but the list does not end there.

Eliminate age bias Unconscious bias could also lead to age discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 made it illegal to discriminate against people over the age of 40 on the basis of age. Avoid this by replacing “recent college grad” and “young and energetic” with the phrase “entry level opportunity.” If your position requires a certain level of experience, use phrases such as “must have a minimum of 5 years’ experience” rather than “no more than 10 years of experience.”

Eliminate other biases Beyond gender, racial, and age biases, here are some more replacements to make your job description more equitable and inclusive:

  • Replace “must be able to lift 20 pounds” with “must be able to move equipment weighing up to 20 pounds”

  • Replace “talk to potential sponsors” with “communicate with potential sponsors”

  • Replace “visually detect health violations” with “inspect health violations”

  • Replace “must be able to stand for entire shift” with “must be able to remain in a stationary position for entire shift”

  • Replace “walk through rooms” with “move through rooms”

Call out inclusive benefits like parental leave and child subsidiaries The percentage of employers offering inclusive benefits has grown in recent years. In fact, about 40 percent of employers now offer paid parental leave. If your new job position entails benefits like parental leave and child subsidiaries, include them in the general job description.

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