5 tips for writing job ads that feel inclusive to everyone

Reckon your job adverts feel inclusive to everyone?

You’d be in the minority if they did.

Pre-pandemic figures suggested that as little as 13% of job ads included diverse and inclusive language. 

But even the relatively recent shift to remote working hasn’t opened things up. Just last year, up to 96% of job adverts at FTSE 100 companies still used gender-biassed language; that’s despite over half (56%) of employees believing their company has a gender-neutral approach to staffing.

Clearly not, then.

In fact, there’s growing research to suggest there’s a dictionary-scale issue when it comes to non-inclusive ads

Based on previous academic research, Total Jobs analysed 76,929 job descriptions to find out just how big the problem is. Astonishingly, the research revealed 478,175 words which carry gender bias; that’s an average of 6 male-coded or female-coded words per job advert. 

But what sort of biased language is most frequently cropping up in today’s job descriptions? Here are five of the most common male and female-gendered terms:

Most common male-gendered words

  1. Lead (70,539 mentions)
  2. Analyse (35,339)
  3. Competitive (23,079)
  4. Active (20,041)
  5. Confident (13,841)

Most common female-gendered words

  1. Support (83,095)
  2. Responsible (64,909)
  3. Understanding (29,638)
  4. Dependable (16,979)
  5. Committed (13,129)

Feels like a bit of a minefield to get things right, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here are 5 tips for writing job ads that feel inclusive to everyone. 

1. Never assume anything

First things first, try to avoid using language that assumes the candidate’s gender. So instead of using “he” or “she”, go for words like “they”, “their” or “the candidate”. This will help ensure you avoid excluding individuals who identify outside the gender binary.

All sound pretty obvious so far, right? 

Sure. But when it comes to accessible, gender-neutral language, this is just the start.

According to Harvard research, masculine language – such as adjectives like “competitive” and “determined” – result in women “perceiving that they would not belong in the work environment”. On the flip side, the research also suggests that words like “collaborative” and cooperative” tend to attract more women than men. 

But even with the best of intentions, can you really catch everything before your advert goes live? 

Maybe on a good day. 

But how about when you’re juggling a million other jobs at once? 

It’s OK, you don’t have to do it alone. Today, there are plenty of free tools out there that can help. For example, Gender Decoder will review your job descriptions to ensure that any stereotypically gender-coded language is either reduced or removed.

So far so good. But the thing is: gender-coded words aren’t the only type of language to look out for.

2. Avoid discriminatory language

To create a job advert that feels welcoming to all prospective candidates – whatever their age, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability – it’s crucial to avoid any language that feels discriminatory. So be mindful of cultural references and idioms that might feel unfamiliar to some candidates. 

So what sort of things should you look out for, then? 

Well, whilst always staying mindful of gendered words, try and avoid inadvertently discriminating with the following:-

  • Racial or ethnic bias – avoid using language that discriminates against people based on their race or ethnicity. For instance, use “proficient in English” over “native English speaker” – but only if absolutely necessary. 
  • Ageist language – instead of saying “young and dynamic”, try using “energetic and motivated”. If possible, only use phrases like “‘recent graduate” or “highly experienced” when these are actual requirements of the job. 
  • Educational requirements – on the subject, avoid being too specific about specific degrees or educational backgrounds; these can end up excluding perfectly-qualified candidates who’ve learned their skills by other means. 
  • Stereotypes – next, skip those tired stereotypes or assumptions about certain groups of people. For example, avoid language like “work hard, play hard”; that’s just a surefire way to exclude anyone who’s trying to find some work-life balance.
  • Ableist language – importantly, never use language that discriminates against individuals with disabilities. For example, instead of saying “able-bodied” use “physically capable” instead.

3. Don’t overlook disabilities 

Currently, around 8.4 million disabled people are of working age in the UK. However, just 4.4 million (53.6%) who are able are actually in work.

So what’s going on?

Well, when it comes to discriminating against disabilities in job ads, it’s often less about what you say and more about what you don’t. For example, do your advertisements explicitly say the organisation welcomes disabled applicants? 

It should. And also try to include all the relevant information around accessibility, e.g. whether the workplace is wheelchair accessible. 

This shouldn’t just be exclusive to those with physical disabilities, though. The most inclusive employers use their job ads to encourage neurodivergent prospects to apply as well.

Just think: does the role really need strong teamwork or communication skills? If not, leave it out. Also, remember to avoid jargon and use plain, concise English. 

You know what, though? Even the smallest tweak like including a statement saying “we welcome disabled applicants” is a positive step in the right direction.

OK, what else can you do?

4. Stay clear on salaries

The gender pay gap for all employees currently stands at 14.9%; disappointingly, this has actually widened since the last time we reported on it.

To put this percentage into context, that means women effectively work for free two months of the year. Pretty shocking. 

But what can you do?

Well, you can start by advertising salary bands in job adverts. This can go some way in closing the gender pay gap by breaking the cycle of asking applicants how much they earn – – before, inevitably, paying differential rates.

Not sure what’s fair? No problem. We’ve put together a list of the current average for tech salaries here. 

5. Focus on flexibility

Finally, you just can’t overlook the importance of flexibility.

In fact, reports suggest that the number of workers searching for flexible jobs has almost tripled this year; that’s rising from 29,796 in December 2022 to 88,968 in January 2023.

So try to ensure your job ad offers flexible working arrangements like remote or hybrid working and flexi-time. This will help you attract a more diverse pool of candidates, including those with caregiving responsibilities or disabilities. When vacancies are at a record high, these ‘perks’ aren’t just nice-to-haves anymore; they’re essential.

The last word on welcoming ads

Above all else, just try and keep your job advert human and authentic. That’s the best way to ensure they entice instead of intimidate. 

And you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, either; there’s plenty of help out there. Use free templates and tone-of-voice checklists to keep you on the right track, whilst avoiding any unnecessary “company speak”. 

Not sure if you’re on the right lines? Just send it over to someone outside the organisation to see if they understand what the job’s all about. 

Just remember: emphasise the job requirements, not the person. Challenge your perception of what you think an “essential” skill is. After all, we learn from each other’s differences – not our reflections. At the end of the day, there’s just no denying that diversity makes businesses better. But only if they apply.

Looking to get serious about diversity and inclusion in your team? Head over to our grad recruitment app and check out today’s burgeoning talent.