An effective job description is much more than a laundry list of tasks and responsibilities—it’s the starting point for a successful company that fully embodies diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
For startup founders and new business owners, it’s incredibly important to hire for diversity from the start. Companies with high levels of cultural and gender diversity are more innovative and have higher revenue, larger market share, and better employee retention. Research also shows that successful tech startups have twice as many women in senior positions as unsuccessful startups.
Because diversity matters so early on it’s important for hiring managers to avoid discriminatory language or bias when writing job descriptions that could potentially deter talent from applying. The more inclusive your job description, the larger and more diverse your talent pool will be.
In addition to writing inclusive job descriptions, Whitney Kahn, a client advisor for Kelaca, a talent acquisition firm, says, “ensuring interviewers, hiring managers, and senior leaders are educated and trained in selection and hiring is just as important. There needs to be a commitment in the messaging that’s present throughout the organization. Companies can also utilize outside help for unconscious bias trainings or recruiting strategies to consider candidates that they wouldn’t have thought of before.”
Read more: What Is Inclusion in the Workplace?
How to write a job description for the first time
In order to be effective, a job description must be concise and compelling to attract a large diverse pool of qualified candidates. In general, try to keep each section short and sweet. You want just enough information to pique interest—too little writing can decrease the legitimacy of the job posting and too much writing can bore the reader.
DEI Professional Celeste Ribbins says, “companies should use direct, straightforward language in their job postings. They should determine what qualifications and experience are absolutely necessary to be successful. Studies indicate that the longer the list of qualifications, the less likely women are to apply. Men will apply for positions where they only meet 60 percent of the qualifications, whereas women tend to only apply if they meet 100 percent of the qualifications.”
Here are the components you should include:
Job title: A job description without a job title is like a cupcake without frosting—incomplete. Make sure the job title accurately reflects the position, its rank within the company (ie: junior, senior, etc), and whether it’s part- or full-time. You want the title to be clear enough so that a candidate can research the standard competencies and a recruiter can find the posting.
Responsibilities: Make a bulleted list of the most important job duties that will need to be performed. For example, “writing 15 articles per month” and “editing all freelance contributions” would be succinct responsibilities for an editorial manager position. Try to keep the list fairly short, about 5–10 responsibilities, with no more than two or three sentences of description for each.
Skills and requirements: The list of skills and requirements will help candidates suss out if they’re qualified and are a good fit. This is where you’ll list soft and hard skills, such as proficiency in Adobe Creative Cloud and ability to adapt, as well as any schooling requirements, like a master’s degree or PhD.
Reporting lines: Candidates will need to know who they would report to or work closely with. For example, in a staff writer job description, it would be important to note that they work closely with the creative department and report to the editorial manager.
Salary and benefits: Instead of listing a hard number, include a salary range in the job description, and you can add that the salary depends on experience. Be sure to include any benefits like health care, wellness programs, unlimited PTO, etc.
Basic company information: You’ll need a boilerplate that describes the basics of your company, as well as a few details that’ll draw in prospective employees—what you do, what your company mission is, how big your team is, etc. Be sure to include the hiring manager’s contact info.
Diversity and inclusion statement: Showing candidates that you are committed to diversity and inclusion can go a long way in attracting more diverse top talent. In addition to the standard Equal Employment Opportunity statement, you can write your own inclusivity statement. Ribbins says, “Employers can create a DEI support statement to include in their job postings. The statement should highlight what they're already doing to support diversity and inclusion in their workplace. For startups, the statement can include aspirational language to highlight the strategies they have in place to be a diverse and inclusive workplace.”
Read more: How to Write Core Values for the First Time
4 types of bias & discriminatory language to avoid:
1. Gender bias
To eliminate any gender bias in your job description, start by removing gender-coded words. Words like fearless, ambitious, decisive, headstrong, assertive, outspoken, driven, and superior are male-coded words, which means they can deter women from applying, even subconsciously. “Companies should avoid language that indicates gender,” Ribbins says. “Most places have moved from ‘waiter/waitress’ to ‘server,’ or ‘salesman’ to ‘sales representative,’ but many still use ‘chairman’ instead of "chairperson." Always use gender neutral pronouns when describing duties—for example, write “you/they will work on…” instead of “he/she will work on.”
It’s also best to eliminate requirements that aren’t absolutely essential. For example, if someone can be trained on the job for a specific software, you don’t need to list it as a prerequisite.
2. Racial bias
Cultural and specific holiday references can be a form of racial bias if other races and ethnicities don’t identify with the reference. Depending on the language you choose, some candidates may be turned off from applying even if the reference is meant to be fun and harmless, so it's best to avoid these types of references in your job descriptions.
If the position requires a certain level of language competency or bilingualism, use wording like “fluent or proficient in English.” If you say, “Native English Speaker,” you might exclude candidates of another ethnicity who speak English as a second language—being fluent does not equate being native to a country.
3. Ableism bias
Make sure your job postings are welcoming to workers of all abilities by advertising when there are flexible accommodations like remote or work-from-home policies that could appeal to workers who are disabled.
When writing descriptions, there are subtle ways to change your language to be more inclusive. For example, instead of “speak,” use “communicate,” and “identify” instead of “see.” Eliminate wording relating to “typing,” since some workers need to input data using their voice instead of keyboards. Be wary of requiring applicants to be able to lift 50 pounds or have a driver’s license—these requirements may prevent people with disabilities from applying so only list them if they’re absolutely necessary for the position.
4. Ageism bias
When looking for a new job, 76 percent of workers 45 and older see age discrimination as a hurdle. To avoid inadvertently discriminating against older candidates, leave out any age-specific adjectives in your job description that could be exclusive, like “young professional” or “digital native.” Ribbins says, “For startups in particular, they may want ‘fresh and energetic’ employees to get their business off to a strong start, but that terminology can be code for young and suggests bias against older workers.”
Try to also avoid slang words or phrases in your descriptions—not everyone knows the alternative meanings of “extra” or “lit” when you’re describing workplace culture.
Where should you share the job posting?
Post the job description to your website, social channels, InHerSight, LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor, and any other job boards you frequently use. But keep in mind that where you post the opening might affect who applies.
Kahn says, “If you only post your roles on the traditional sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, etc, you could be missing out on groups of people that can add a ton of value to your organization. It’s important to go where diverse candidates are to ensure you are increasing the possible candidate pool. Utilizing places such as HBCUs and their alumni groups, minority networking groups, and other places where minority candidates look for information is a great way to be an advocate and ally for those types of candidates.”
About our sources
Whitney Kahn is a client advisor at Kelaca, a Talent Acquisition and Advisory firm founded with a vision to redefine the recruiting experience. She has over 15 years of experience in leadership development, team management, and program development.
Celeste Ribbins is a DEI Professional who offers training, strategy, and workshops. Currently the Director Of Administration in the Division of Diversity, Inclusion & University Engagement for Cleveland State University, she has over 30 years of experience in employee communications, media relations, and community and government affairs. She holds a master of arts degree in psychology from Cleveland State University with a focus on culturally competent leadership and diversity management.