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.
Check out the phrases highlighted above: There are 2 problems with this:
- It assumes that veterans are only men
- It ignores same-sex relationships that veterans might be in
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.
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
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:
- “An Incomplete Guide to Inclusive Language for Startups and Tech” (Buffer’s Courtney Seiter lists negative terms and affirmative alternatives as well as a list of 18 offensive phrases to avoid). This article is the most valuable one I’ve seen on the topic. I even found a few new ones that I didn’t already have for my table below! Thanks, Courtney!
- Global Language Monitor’s Top Politically (in)Correct Words and Phrases
- 25 job titles that still use the word “man”
Here’s a list of potentially offensive/exclusionary words with a more inclusive synonym:
|Exclusionary Word||Inclusive Synonym|
|afflicted||person with a disability|
|crippled||person with a disability|
|founding fathers||ancestors, founders|
|guys||folks, people, teammates|
|handicapped||people with disabilities|
|invalid||person with a disability|
work hours, workers, workforce, personnel
|mankind||people, human beings, humanity|
|manpower||workers, workforce, personnel|
a person with developmental disability
deceased spouses, deceased partners
deceased spouses, deceased partners
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 Words||Inclusive Synonyms|
|brown bag session||lunch and learn|
|colored person||person of color, POC, BIPOC|
|digital native||person passionate about technology|
|dwarf||little person, person of short stature|
|illegal immigrants||undocumented immigrants|
|maternity/paternity leave||parental leave|
|millennials only||**If you use "millennials only", make sure it's not in the context of excluding older people**|
|native English speaker||fluent in English|
|nip in the bud||stop, end|
|non-white||members of underrepresented groups|
|peanut gallery||group, audience, crowd|
|the disabled||people with disabilities|
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.