There are quite a few words and phrases that can crush your job descriptions.

Use just one of these phrases and you could lose 50%+ of your candidates. These words are considered “exclusionary” by some and just plain offensive words by others.

Exclusionary words in job descriptions are so rampant, that Ongig’s Text Analyzer now flags them for our clients (with recommendations for inclusive synonyms to replace them with and explains why they might be offensive to certain groups).

Below are a couple of examples of exclusionary words we’ve found in job descriptions. I grayed out the names of the employers cuz we don’t like to throw co.s under the bus.

Problem

Check out the phrases highlighted above: There are 2 problems with this:

  1. It assumes that veterans are only men
  2. It ignores same-sex relationships that veterans might be in

Solution

They’d be better off writing something like:

“veterans and/or their spouses” or “veterans and their partners”.

Let’s look at another example of a job description with language offensive to some.

One topic to beware of is racially insensitive words and phrases.

Check out the below job description’s use of the phrase “master / slave”. “Master/Slave” is a term used in technology to describe the control of one device over another.

Problem

Many will consider “master/slave” racially insensitive because it evokes the practice of slavery.  In 2004, the phrase “master/slave” was named the most politically incorrect term by Global Language Monitor. Yet, master/slave continues to be used in many database-related job descriptions

Solution

Consider different language, for instance, tech leaders such as IBM, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and others have replaced the use of “master/slave” with “primary/replica”

There are entire movements going on to rid the world of words that many find offensive.  R-word.org, for example, is a community built to end the use of the word “retard” and its variants. It has 775,533 pledges at last count.

A synonym for retarded, for example, is “a person with a developmental disability”.

Good Resources for Lists of Exclusionary and Offensive Words

Here are a couple of good lists of potentially-offensive/exclusionary words:

Here’s a list of potentially offensive/exclusionary words with a more inclusive synonym:

Exclusionary WordInclusive Synonym
afflictedperson with a disability
brothersibling
businessmanbusinessperson
crippledperson with a disability
dadparent
femaleswomen
forefathersancestors
founding fathersancestors, founders
freshmanfirst-year student
galsfolks, people
girlwoman
grandfather clauselegacy
guysfolks, people, teammates
handicappedpeople with disabilities
husbandsspouses, partners
invalidperson with a disability
ladiesfolks, people
laymanlayperson
manperson, individual
man-hours
work hours, workers, workforce, personnel
man-madeartificial, synthetic
mankindpeople, human beings, humanity
manpowerworkers, workforce, personnel
middlemanintermediary, go-between
momparent
retarded
a person with developmental disability
sistersibling
spokesmanspokesperson
spokeswomanspokesperson
widowers
deceased spouses, deceased partners
widows
deceased spouses, deceased partners
wivesspouses, partners
workmanshipwork

Another list of offensive words [2020 Update]

Language is always evolving, but so are some of the most offensive words are still being used in job descriptions. We searched job postings on Linkedin, Indeed, and career pages to find this updated list of offensive words, with inclusive synonyms:

Offensive WordsInclusive Synonyms
basket casenervous
blacklistblocklist, stoplist
brown bag sessionlunch and learn
cakewalkeasy task
colored personperson of color, POC, BIPOC
digital nativeperson passionate about technology
dwarflittle person, person of short stature
elderlyolder people
foremansupervisor
grandfatheredexempt
handymanmaintenance person
he/shethey, you
illegal immigrantsundocumented immigrants
latino
latinx, latine
recent graduategraduate
maternity/paternity leaveparental leave
millennials only**If you use "millennials only", make sure it's not in the context of excluding older people**
native English speakerfluent in English
nip in the budstop, end
non-whitemembers of underrepresented groups
peanut gallerygroup, audience, crowd
quarterbackedguided, managed
spirit animalfriend
the disabledpeople with disabilities
trannytransgender person

These offensive words to avoid are related to different types of bias including age, race, disability, and sexual orientation.

For more tips on writing job descriptions, check out How to Write a Job Description — Best Practices & Examples.

Why I wrote this?

My team and I at Ongig focus on creating the world’s best-looking and most effective job descriptions. One feature of our Text Analyzer software is that it identifies offensive/exclusionary words in your job descriptions, fixes them…and explains why they might be offensive to certain groups.

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by in Writing Job Descriptions

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