How to Write Inclusive Job Descriptions

Don’t turn away great candidates before they even apply.

Written byTammy Xu

To be successful — and equitable — in the hiring realm, recruiters and hiring managers should take a critical look at their job descriptions. Those are the first point of contact between a company and job seekers, and the language they use can either deter good candidates from applying or open up the workplace to a wider, more diverse pool of talent. 

Inclusive job descriptions eliminate biased language, avoid industry jargon and highlight equal employment opportunity statements. Recruiters looking to craft inclusive job descriptions can use this guide to get started. 

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How to Create Inclusive Job Descriptions

Poorly written job descriptions can be alienating or even downright discriminatory. They may use gender-coded language, lean too heavily on jargon or ask for more qualifications than are needed to perform the job well (sometimes asking for more experience using a tool than is even possible).

Because biased wording in job ads is largely subconscious, it takes intentionality to spot problems and create more inclusive job descriptions. Let’s take a closer look at ways to make job descriptions more inclusive. 


  • Check for gendered wording. Avoid relying overly on masculine language that can deter women from applying.
  • Remove racially biased language. 
  • Use plain speech rather than corporate jargon.
  • Avoid phrases that imply a preference for young candidates, such as “fast-moving.”
  • Don’t make level of schooling a requirement unless a candidate actually needs a degree to do the job, and don’t put too much emphasis on GPAs.
  • Avoid excessive and unnecessary requirements.


In 2011, psychologists from the University of Waterloo and Duke University published a research paper that studied whether job ads in predominantly male fields used wording associated with “masculine” characteristics — such as “dominant,” “confident” and “competitive” — and whether gendered wording potentially deterred women from applying to those jobs.

The result, unfortunately, was yes. They found that job ads for fields with a higher ratio of men had more masculine language, and that those ads appealed less to women. The researchers reported that women were deterred not because they weren’t qualified for the jobs, but because the gendered wording implied the workplace was not gender diverse and that women wouldn’t belong there.

One of the simplest things companies can do is train hiring managers to be on the lookout for problematic wording in their job ads. The psychology study is a good start — it includes two lists of words that existing research has established are coded as masculine or feminine, such as “confident” or “considerate.” Those lists also form the basis of Kat Matfield’s free gender decoder tool, which anyone can use by copying over the text of a job ad. The tool parses the text and compares it against the lists of masculine and feminine words to calculate bias.

“That language is changing, and so you need something that’s going to stay up to date so that you understand the language patterns that are working in today’s workforce.”

Using gender-neutral language in job descriptions can also eliminate bias. This can look like addressing candidates with collective terms like “you.” Some examples of how this might look in practice could be using phrasing like “you have extensive experience with Excel” or “you have three to five years of experience working in SEO.”

Gender neutral job titles and pronouns can also remove any gender preferences in job ads. Instead of saying “chairman,” use “chairperson.” Pronouns like “she/her” and “he/him” within job descriptions can be changed to “they/them/theirs.”

Jessica Khoshnood, a senior customer marketing manager at Textio, an augmented writing platform that gives companies real-time suggestions for writing inclusive job ads and recruiting emails, said that writing a good job description isn’t so much about avoiding all masculine words as it is about being mindful of how language is perceived and using words that appeal to a broad range of candidates.

“A job description is never going to be just a single word,” Khoshnood said. “It’s how you’re balancing some of that biased language throughout, to make sure that if you are using some masculine language, you’re also using other feminine language to balance it out to make sure that you’re getting to, in the end, a neutral tone.”

Khoshnood also pointed out that, in the years since the psychology study was published, language use may have changed and diminished the effectiveness of only comparing job descriptions against the study’s original list of words.

“That language is changing, and so you need something that’s going to stay up to date so that you understand the language patterns that are working in today’s workforce,” she said.

Hew Ingram, head of engineering at Applied, agrees on the need to stay up to date, but feels that the study’s list of words were still relevant.

“The paper isn’t about how we use language, it’s about the way we react to those words,” he said.

Applied, a London-based recruitment platform that helps companies reduce unconscious bias within their recruiting processes, provides tools for writing more inclusive job ads and reducing bias when assessing candidates. Its text analysis tool for job ads is based in part on gendered words from the 2011 study, and provides real-time suggestions for more inclusive rephrasing.

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Removing racially biased language or connotations from job descriptions is crucial, as only 30 percent of U.S. employees that work in the tech industry identify as Black, Latinx or Asian, according to a report from Wiley.  

Creating inclusive job descriptions is one step recruiters and hiring managers can take toward resolving some of these racial imbalances. Some common best practices for avoiding racial bias in job ads include:

  • Avoid phrases like “strong English language skills,” which may put off non-native English speakers. 
  • Don’t mention race or national origin anywhere in the job description. 
  • Don’t require candidates to have graduated from a “top school” in their field. 
  • Avoid terminology that has racist connotations

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Some wording in job descriptions may unconsciously reflect ableism. Phrases such as “fast-paced” and “fast-moving” could convey to job seekers that a company is only interested in younger or able-bodied applicants, Ingram said.

To encourage applications from workers with disabilities, companies should prioritize using ADA compliant language and make it clear that they are able to make reasonable accommodations. 

Khoshnood said it’s important to be “making sure that you are using language that really promotes and shares your ability to make those reasonable accommodations, so that folks are feeling included.”

For example, instead of saying an employee needs to “be able to remain seated at a desk for long periods of time and use a keyboard and computer,” a more inclusive job description could read: “This person should be able to remain stationary for long periods of time and operate a computer and other machinery such as a keyboard and printer.” 

Companies may also want to mention various policies or accommodations that benefit disabled employees. Highlighting flexible work hours and remote work opportunities are a few examples of benefits that may help disabled employees and candidates

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Job descriptions are often guilty of using confusing and alienating corporate jargon, Khoshnood said.

“Plain speech, really describing what you’re trying to say, is always going to get you further,” she said about the best way to communicate with applicants. In other words: Hold off on ambiguous phrases such as “leverage” and “KPI.”

“You think that by using corporate colloquialisms you’re going to be building a community and you’re going to be attracting people who already understand the space that you’re in,” Khoshnood said. “But really what you’re doing is alienating a large group of people, mostly minorities — folks who have the skills and qualities to succeed in the role, but maybe [aren’t familiar with] the exact phrases that you’re using in corporate jargon.”

Find out who’s hiring.

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Including Requirements in Inclusive Job Descriptions 

Job ads commonly ask for far more skills and qualifications than are needed to perform the job well. The description might call for familiarity with a long list of programming languages, or for a significant number of years of experience with certain technologies — sometimes more years of experience than a technology has been around for.

Scare tactics like asking for more experience with a tool than really needed to “weed out” candidates really just discourages qualified people from applying. 

Another job description practice that can prematurely filter out good candidates is requiring a bachelor’s degree or a certain level of GPA.

“When you put that in there, you’re assuming that someone went to a four-year college or got their two-year associate’s degree, and you’re not open to the possibility that trade schools or bootcamps are going to be just as effective — or a certain number of years in a role maybe is better than having that four-year degree,” Khoshnood said. “Maybe we can throw that out because we’re trying to think outside the box a little bit more.”

Companies requiring minimum academic criteria perpetuate that economic inequality onto the next generation of workers. Karla Monterroso, CEO of Code2040, a non-profit that works to promote Black and Latinx workers in tech, said that students who work part-time jobs during school because their families aren’t able to pay for tuition may be unable to maintain as high of GPAs as students who don’t have to work. 

Alexandria Butler, who works in tech as a product manager, also expressed her frustration with excessive requirements in job ads, and explained how it can perpetuate privileges and inequalities.

“Why do we have these job descriptions that are asking people to cure cancer when they don’t actually need to cure cancer to do this job?” Butler said. “We have a situation where we have white straight men who are walking around and look at a job description, and say, ‘Hey, I have two have these five things, I’m going to apply.’ Everybody else, we have literally been trained not to do that.”

Khoshnood said that companies should shift from having a “fixed” mindset about what candidates currently are able to do, to having a “growth” mindset about their capacity to take on new challenges.

“A fixed mindset turns away minorities and women from applying,” Khoshnood said. “Whereas when you focus on someone being able to learn in the role, to grow into it, you’re putting the focus less on these defined qualities that you may or may not have, and being open to the possibilities of different types of backgrounds that maybe are transferable but aren’t the paper list that you have in mind.”

Include an Equal Employment Opportunity Statement

Including an equal employment opportunity statement ensures that your company is compliant with federal and state labor laws. Many employers also emphasize their commitment to DEI in equal employment opportunity statements. An example of an EEO statement might look like: 

“[Company name] is an Equal Opportunity Employer. We are committed to creating a diverse and inclusive work environment. [Company name] does not discriminate against candidates or employees because of their sex, race, gender identity, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, veteran status or any other protected status under the law.”

Companies may also benefit from featuring DEI initiatives in job descriptions as well as highlighting company core values. This gives candidates a sense of what your company prioritizes and the kind of company culture they can expect. 

Find out who’s hiring.

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Inclusive Job Descriptions are Just the First Step to Meaningful Hiring Practices

Some people might ask: isn’t the whole point of the recruiting process to whittle down the number of applicants? It seems that by writing job descriptions using as inclusive of language as possible, and not having requirements such as college degrees or minimum years of experience, a company would be bringing an impossible amount of work on itself in the hiring process. 

On the contrary, Ingram said, relying on the language of a job advertisement to do the work of filtering out possible candidates for you is the wrong way to hire. He pointed to a 1998 psychology study from the University of Iowa and Michigan State University that showed the amount of education and the years of job experience an individual had did not predict job performance well, compared to assessment with work samples and structured interviews. The process of narrowing down candidates should be at the assessment step, not the job description step.

“You’re actually just losing out on great candidates,” he said about using job ads to filter candidates. “You want to be using a selection method that is shown to be really good. And if you know that your hiring process is amazing, then everyone will apply and you know you’re going to find the right person. Getting more applicants, therefore, with a really good hiring process, is exactly what you want.”

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