Inclusive Job Descriptions Toolkit

A deep red background to a sign saying "we are hiring".Diversity, equity and inclusion are the current buzz words in the workplace, and it all starts with recruiting. So, how inclusive are job descriptions? Using gender inclusive language, meaning cisgender inclusive, now seems normal. Now we need to think about language for all marginalised groups. Grand Valley State University Libraries has an Inclusive Job Descriptions Toolkit to help. 

The toolkit is focused on university recruitment, but the information can be used in other contexts. They use the acronym IDEA – Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access.  

The first part of the toolkit outlines best practices and the second part provides an equity lens for reviewing the job descriptions. The appendices include additional language and job description templates.

The toolkit lists the components of a job description some of which are specific to the university context. However, all job descriptions should give an employee a clear guide to the role and what is expected of them. A job description answers the question “What does this role do?” The next section gives guidance on writing inclusive job descriptions. 

Writing an inclusive job description

Inclusive language reduces the likelihood of applicants from self-selecting out. Biased language can occur unintentionally and can have a negative impact on recruitment efforts. For example, a job being suited to a recent graduate may signal a desire to avoid older workers.

The section on tips for writing job descriptions has many of the usual points for clear communication. For example: conciseness, simple gender inclusive language, and avoiding acronyms. Other tips are on phrasing such as moving from “excellent communication skills” to “ability to communicate clearly and effectively”.

The toolkit lists gender, race, and ableist coded words that most people wouldn’t consider as non-inclusive:

    • Female-Coded Words: Agreeable, empathetic, sensitive, affectionate, feel, support, collaborate, honest, trust, commit, interpersonal, understanding, compassion, nurture, and share.
    • Male-Coded Words: Aggressive, confident, fearless, ambitious, decisive, head-strong, assertive, defend, independent, battle, dominant, outspoken, challenge, driven and superior.
    • Racially Coded Words: Excellent English-language skills, clear-spoken, native English speaker, cultural fit, nice, polite, Latino/Latina, professionalism
    • Ableist-Coded Words: Energetic, athletic, able-bodied individual, talking with students, walking through the building

The section that follows gives examples of how to make changes to phrasing. The section on ableist phrasing could do with some improvements, but it gives the idea. 

Equity lens

Applying an equity lens is a reminder that an organisation cannot embody IDEA without reviewing and updating their job descriptions and recruitment practices. 

“It is explicit in drawing attention to the inclusion of marginalized populations, typically communities of color, and can be adapted to focus on other communities. … An equity lens will not tell you what action to take. Rather, the lens helps you discuss and reflect on the equitableness of the action and decision-making process.”

The document can also be found on the Library Reports and Communication webpage. Grand Scholar Works is a service of the Grand Valley State University Libraries. Michigan USA.

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