How job adverts need to change to boost inclusivity

June 30th, 2021

Linguistics experts are calling for a complete overhaul of the way language is used in job adverts and recruitment campaigns to properly improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

The team from the University of Nottingham has published a new report which proposes comprehensive ways to eradicate the widespread language of exclusion commonly used in employment processes.

This work aims to help the huge numbers of people from under-represented groups who are put off applying for jobs and career progression because of outdated job specs and cursory references to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

The language used in recruitment has a profound impact on how advertised job roles are discovered, perceived and interpreted by prospective employees. This language also offers a window into the organisational culture of the employer, including their attitudes to equality, diversity and inclusion.

The research team at the university built a 1.4-million-word database of contemporary recruitment advertisements from a wide spectrum of employers. These industries included science, engineering, law, IT, medicine, psychology, finance, higher education and sales and marketing. A total of 1,055 job adverts from these sectors were analysed using a computer-based technique called corpus linguistics.

Overall, there were 10 key trends in these adverts that the researchers believe have a significant impact on how they attract and appeal to jobseekers. These include aspects of box-ticking and tokenism, vague and hyperbolic language, the over-formality of some phrases like ‘role-holder’ or ‘applicant’ and conversely the use of more casual but intimidating identity labels such as, ‘are you a no bullshit type?’ or ‘evangelist’.

Leading the project, Professor Louise Mullany from the School of English at the university said: “This is a much-needed piece of research because private and public sector employers are still failing to attract and hire talented people from a properly diverse range of backgrounds. A good deal of this is down to out-dated or misplaced use of language in job adverts and recruitment campaigns.

“We have used the results of this extensive research to create a communications toolkit for employers and HR professionals, giving them the power to put our suggestions and improvements into practice. We developed a series of interventions showing a range of job adverts before we had analysed them and after we had rewritten them using our key improvements to engage a much broader range of prospective employees in the text. Our industry partners believe that our clearer, more neutral and engaging use of language will make a big difference to the range of applicants in future recruitment drives.”

The research team is keen to engage with more employers who are interested in an analysis of their recruitment text and bespoke advice on how it could be improved to attract a wider audience of potential employees.

A downloadable copy of the full report is available here.

‘Transforming the Language of Exclusion and Bias in Recruitment’ is part of STEMM Change, a collaborative project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation.

For more information, please contact Professor Louise Mullany at the School of English.

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