The Power of Inclusive Language in Recruitment

As individuals, we all see the world through a different lens depending on our background, cultural environment, and personal experiences. This influences our judgment and assessment of others and the situations we are confronted with. Collectively, we hold beliefs and assumptions about groups of people, that are often subconscious, based on their class, background, age, gender, ethnicity, or ability. These stereotypes evolve at various stages of our lives and influence the way we interact with others, react to situations, or make decisions both in our personal and professional lives.

But why does it matter when talking about recruitment and Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (ED&I) in the workplace?

The impact of stereotyping and unconscious bias on recruitment is significant and contributes to continuing inequalities in the workplace. Research suggests that the language we use has a major impact on the career options people feel are available to them. Better understanding the relationship between bias and language can help organisations identify and reduce unconscious biases in their recruitment processes and widen their talent pool.

Understanding the impact of unconscious biases in recruitment

When recruiting for a new role, organisations may already have a ‘type’ of person in mind, and this can alter their judgment when reviewing applications. Research from Yale has shown that when presented with identical applications, the only difference being one had the name Jennifer and the other had John, all recruiters, including women recruiters, favoured John’s application across each criteria of competence, hireability, mentoring, and recommended a higher starting salary. All the recruiters had training in being objective, but all favoured John’s application over Jennifer’s identical one – on a subconscious level John was deemed a more fitting candidate based solely on his gender.

However, there are many solutions and steps employers can take to reduce biases when reviewing applications. Blind recruitment is an effective tool for organisations that has proven to increase the number of women getting to the final stages of the recruitment process.

But blind recruitment alone is not enough to mitigate biases at the various stages of the recruitment process. Having a ‘type’ of person in mind when recruiting for a role not only impacts decision-making when reviewing applications but also has an effect when defining the requirements for the job and drafting the job description. Equally, the way a company represents itself in their job adverts can be a determining factor in the diversity of candidates who apply for the advertised role. As a result, it is critical to understand the power that words and language have in recruitment materials and how they can influence job seekers’ interest in a specific role or organisation.  

Understanding who your recruitment materials speak to/resonate with

It is easy to assume the language we use is neutral, but several studies have concluded otherwise.

Academic research by the University of Waterloo and Duke University defined a series of words which socially, culturally, and historically carry a stereotypical weight towards a particular gender. The researchers found that language used in job recruitment materials can maintain gender inequality in traditionally male-dominated occupations. It showed that the inadvertent and subtle use of masculine language or words that were more associated with the male gender discouraged women from applying for these jobs. Whereas when feminine language was used instead to describe the same job role women were more attracted to the job description. While the study showed that both men and women show a preference for job descriptions matching their gender, this affected women more than their male counterparts.

Based on this research, Total Jobs analysed over 75,000 job adverts for gendered language. They found that only 20% of job adverts were gender neutral. Masculine coded language was mostly used in science, sales and in senior positions, whereas feminine coded language was commonly found across social care, hospitality and supporting roles.

In 2019, LinkedIn research showed that when words like ‘aggressive’ were used in a job description to describe a company’s workplace, 44% of women (and 33% of men) would be discouraged from applying. The research also highlighted that a quarter of women would be discouraged from working somewhere described as ‘demanding.’

Because language can have a bias towards a gender, it is important to consider this when writing job descriptions. Commonly used words and phrases in recruitment materials can reinforce unhelpful stereotypes and inadvertently exclude certain groups from applying for roles. Below are a few examples of commonly used ‘masculine’ words in job adverts. Replacing these words in the job description can encourage a wider range of potential candidates to apply.   

Ambitious                         →                         Forward thinking / Growth mindset

Assertive                           →                         Ability to articulate vision / ideas clearly

Competitive                     →                         Forward thinking / Growth mindset / (Has a) Vision

Driven                               →                         Motivated / Enthusiastic / Positive / Passionate   

Improving the inclusivity of your job description – beyond language

If the language used in your job description is essential to attract a wider range of candidates, other aspects also need to be considered such as the structure, content, and tone of the advert.

  • Providing a diversity statement in your job description tells people your organisation welcomes applications from people of all backgrounds. Some people might not think a role or organisation is a good fit for them because of their gender, disability, or ethnicity.
  • Providing the salary, benefits, and flexible working options can help potential candidates assess whether the role is suitable for their circumstances.
  • Ensuring imagery and pictures used reflect the diversity of your organisation.
  • Mentioning your company’s culture and values to help potential candidates assess if their values align with yours.

And finally, think about your advertisement channels and where your audience is looking for job opportunities, diverse job boards can help you access talent you may not have otherwise reached – ‘if you ever fish in the same pond, you can only ever catch the same fish!’

About Equate Scotland

Equate Scotland are the national experts in Scotland for gender equality in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and the Built Environment (STEM). Established in 2006, we encourage a universal approach to address gender equality in STEM. We work with women at every stage of the talent pipeline from students to management, and support organisations to improve their ED&I practices, providing them with the tools they need to tackle gender bias and inequality in their organisation.

The Equate CareerHub is a dedicated platform addressing the gender imbalance in the STEM sector. Through encouraging inclusive recruitment practices and providing a recruitment website that connects employers committed to ED&I with women studying, working, or looking to work in STEM.

If we can help you to develop progressive and effective recruitment practices please do not hesitate to get in contact with a member of our HR & Employment Law experts

Proud to support a diverse range of clients

The importance of training your management team 

It is not unusual for start-up businesses to grow faster than their resources can match. A common concern for technical start-ups is how they can develop their staff so that employees can grow with the business.  

These ambitious businesses are often full of people who wear a number of hats and can find themselves in management roles without any formal management experience. It is therefore important for companies (even small ones) to develop sustainable leadership practices that support first time line managers who have been promoted within. 

It is vital to nurture your internal talent pipeline for a couple of reasons. Firstly, building a strong team internally helps to advance your culture and strengthen the business values, with senior employees embedded in the business and committed to its mission. Secondly, growing internal talent helps to retain employees and promotes positive engagement levels as team members can see a career path and future for themselves within the business.  

Strengthening your team from within 

How, then, can businesses strengthen their team from within, and help individual team members to grow and evolve with the business, and see a future for themselves within it? Learning how to identify gaps in knowledge or expertise, identify genuine training needs, and then deliver the relevant training in a way that is accessible, helpful, and effectively addresses the training needs is key to this.  

Following on from this, is understanding how to assess people’s learning, how to help reinforce the training given, particularly in areas where the learner finds more difficult, and how to measure the subsequent success. 

Train the Trainer Course 

We know how important these training skills are in building a strong, confident, knowledgeable management teams, and since we ourselves at AAB People deliver training in various areas on various levels to businesses, we decided to undertake ‘Train the Trainer’ courses.  

These courses teach people how to do exactly the above. In learning how to be better trainers, we can better deliver training to our valued clients. This included filling any particular gaps in knowledge and experience, and boosting people’s confidence, to help individuals develop within the business as it expands and evolves too.  

Despite being incredibly beneficial for both employees and businesses, developing internal talent is not without significant challenges. There are stumbling blocks which businesses can trip over in this area.  Here are a couple of these trip hazards and our recommendations for avoiding these to ensure your internal talent pipeline is robust. 

Understanding what you need and expect from your senior team is crucial.

The Technical Lead vs. the People Manager 

Understanding what you need and expect from your senior team is important for a business. Do they need to manage other staff members or are they developing into a technical lead role for a specific area? Perhaps it might even be both. Knowing this is crucial to helping you select and develop the right person for the role. If you are seeking someone who can manage people, then it’s worth understanding if this is the direction your selected employee wants to take their career. Some employees may like to advance within the business but not necessarily manage a team.  

Be sure to discuss personal aspirations with employees. Through these conversations, you will learn that no two people share the same vision for their career. Some may want to become subject matter experts, while others really want to manage a team.  

AAB People understands the importance of managers feeling confident in their abilities to manage a team. We also recognise how beneficial it is to be able to carry out the training and development of managers in-house, which is why we offer support for businesses in doing exactly that.  

One business that we have helped in this way is CAS – an employee-owned technology company specialising in case management systems regulated casework. After assessing CAS’s needs through consultations with their senior team and a full audit of existing HR infrastructure, we created a bespoke management training programme for them. We delivered it through a series of interactive workshops, and the training has enabled line managers to effectively develop and support their teams. 

The Accidental Manager 

With many startups experiencing periods of rapid growth and a requirement to scale up their team very quickly, it can often happen that longer serving employees become managers or area leads by default. 

In most cases this will be fine in the short term, however issues tend to arise when the lack of training for the new role means mistakes are made. For people managers this can lead to errors in compliance as well as poor people management leading to lower productivity and inefficiencies in teams. 

In addition, this can cause issues with company engagement levels as well as having a negative impact on the manager, therefore creating ‘flight risks’ (potential leavers) at all levels within your business. 

How to Ensure a Strong Internal Talent Pipeline 

New managers need more than technical know-how to be effective

In developing a management team, it is important to recognise that most people will need some help and training to be able to fulfil the roles required of them – especially if they are being promoted from within an organisation.  

New managers need more than technical know-how to be effective in their roles. They must develop a wide range of soft skills, ranging from effective communication to time management. A strong leadership culture can help them meet these challenges by offering guidance, training, and support. Even in a startup environment, it’s crucial that company leaders pause to make this investment in their new managers.  

Training is the best place to start setting expectations for your managers. Do you expect them to hold regular 1:1s with their employees? Do you expect them to give performance feedback? Do you expect them to train their people? Do you expect them to agree upon objectives with their team? Once you’ve set expectations, your management training requirements have already been defined.  

Often, the biggest inhibitor to putting a training programme in place is the perception that it will take too much time. External training courses generally require a full day or more out of the business, which is often just not practical. A much better approach is a structured internal training programme – aligned to your individual business needs, culture and values, and delivered in bitesize sessions to work around other business priorities.  

In summary…

When looking at the development of an internal team it is critical to understand your requirements and the associated timescales. Understanding how your People Plan and business priorities link will ultimately enable you to develop the structure to grow your team without hitting any of the above trip hazards. 

Becoming a more effective manager is a continual cycle, building education on experience and branching into new areas as roles expand. That’s why it’s critical for companies of all sizes to invest in a strong leadership culture. By fostering open communication and designing a set of management practices that aligns with your employees’ goals, you will create a successful team that is eager to learn.  

AAB People have extensive experience in delivering manager training programmes to start-up and scale-up businesses in areas including performance management, recruitment, development of team members, manager processes, absence & grievance management, difficult conversations, and HR processes. Please do not hesitate to get in contact with our AAB People team if we can provide any management training support. 

Our colleagues at Think People run a range of training courses- you can find out more information about the courses Think People run here

To find out in more detail about the importance of training your management team and the benefits your business can achieve from doing so, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!

Proud to support a diverse range of clients

What is the Psychological Contract?

The psychological contract is a key part of building an attractive employer brand to attract potential recruits and retaining employees. Understanding how this contact is formed, maintained and what elements are vital to individual employees, HR processes, policies, benefits and more can be designed to support, engage and retain employees to the company’s benefit.

Recruiting and retaining business critical employees with unique and difficult to source skill sets is crucial for many businesses. Understanding and considering the psychological contract can play a vital part in doing this.

What is the Psychological Contract?

The term ‘psychological contract’ refers to an unwritten, unnegotiated understanding of how the employment relationship will work. The psychological contract encompasses the perceived expectations, beliefs, ambitions and obligations of both the employee and the organisation. Most frequently, these expectations cover;

  • Training and development
  • Job security
  • Fairness of pay and benefits
  • Organisational culture

As an example, an employee may expect their employer to give them a salary increase within 6 months, but in order to meet this the employer may have the expectation that the employee will hit a certain sales target or show a certain level of loyalty or commitment to the company.

The psychological contract is subjective and is unique in each individual employee. Each employee has their own unique perceptions, motivations and priorities and the employer is responsible for determining what these are.

What are the Benefits of a Balanced Psychological Contract?

A balanced psychological contract is one in which the expectations are fair to both the employee and the employer, where neither is expecting too much of the other. In order for an employment relationship to really thrive, a balanced and fair psychological contract must exist for both parties. Where a balanced psychological contract exists, the employee is more likely to be more committed, go above and beyond, and perform better.

Where a psychological contract becomes imbalanced and the employer is expecting too much for what they are willing to give in return, the employee can quickly start to feel demotivated, undervalued and underappreciated. This imbalance more often than not results in low employee engagement, and a high employee turnover rate.

How is the Psychological Contract Formed?

The formation of the psychological contract begins upon the first engagement a potential employee has with an organisation. This can even happen before that person could be considered a potential employee, and their first engagement might be with the company website, a retail shop, social media or elsewhere. Therefore it is important to portray your organisation and your culture as realistically as possible on your website, social media and through your recruitment process to ensure potential employees are forming realistic, manageable expectations from the outset. Simple conversations with anyone in the organisation (both formal and informal), everyday actions, statements and promises can all contribute to the expectations a person will form, in addition to company processes and policies.

It is important to note that the formation of the psychological contract is an ongoing process. As an individual’s priorities change, or the business or external environment changes, that person’s psychological contract will change and morph, and may end up being completely different to when they first started with the company. This is why is it is important to regularly reassess employee expectations, to ensure HR strategy, processes and policies are amended where necessary to meet the requirements of employees.

Can the Psychological Contract be Broken?

Much like a written employment contract, it is possible for an employer to ‘breach’ a psychological contract. Where breaching an employment contract can have legal consequences, breaching a psychological contract results in more formal, yet still very real consequences.

When an employer does not meet an expectation of an employee, this is known as a psychological contract ‘breach’. The impact of a breach can vary significantly dependent on what expectation wasn’t met, the reason why it wasn’t met, and how important this was to the employee. It is more than likely the more important the expectation was to the employee, the more negative impact will occur as a result of the breach.

What are the Risks of a Psychological Contract Breach?

A psychological contract breach is something which can be difficult to come back from, therefore it is always more effective to aim to prevent a breach from occurring, rather than to try to repair it afterwards. Due to the unwritten and subjective nature of the psychological contract, there is a heavy reliance on trust from both parties to maintain it. Where a breach then occurs, it can be difficult to repair the trust that was broken.

The severity of the breach in the eyes of the employee is really the determining factor for the reaction they may exhibit afterwards. Where an employee has determined a breach has been ‘severe’, it can result in them seeing resigning from the organisation as their only choice. Any breach can result in a loss of trust, feelings of being underappreciated, decreases in performance, commitment and engagement. Though these do not pose the same initial risk as the threat of resignation, they are still equally as importance to tackle as they can lead to retention issues if nothing is actioned.

How Can You Understand and Manage the Psychological Contract?

What shines through as the most important thing throughout forming the psychological contract and addressing any breaches is communication. It is absolutely vital to maintain clear communication to manage employee expectations. Keeping an ongoing open and transparent dialogue with every employee will significantly help to manage expectations, to show empathy and compassion for each other’s situations and to highlight areas where employees may have frustrations or misunderstandings that could turn into a breach of the psychological contract.

It is also vital to listen to employees, understand what motivates them and remember what they tell you as these motivators will be the most effective for encouraging and rewarding the employee, with the additional benefit of having a positive impact on their performance and engagement. However, it cannot be stressed enough that listening alone is not enough, and must always be followed with action.

There’s never been a better time to to connect with employees to determine their priorities and expectations going forward into a new and different phase. As many standard practices such as office working are being reconsidered, it is a prime opportunity to take into consideration the wants and needs of employees to honour their psychological contracts in the best way possible.

If you or your organisation could benefit help with employee engagement, communications or retention, please contact our AAB People team.

Proud to support a diverse range of clients