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How job adverts need to change to boost inclusivity

Wednesday, 30 June 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numbers of people from under-represented groups who are put off applying for jobs and career progression because of outdated job specs and cursory references to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).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 Nottingham 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’.

Professor Louise Mullany, School of English

Leading the project, Professor Louise Mullany from the university’s School of English, 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.”

Tom Lyas, Browne Jacobson LLP

One partner, Tom Lyas, Recruitment Manager at Browne Jacobson LLP, said: “The recruitment language project with the University of Nottingham has highlighted to us the critical importance and impact of the specific language that is used with our employment advertising and job specifications from a D&I perspective. Working in collaboration with the team at the University has enabled our firm to identify the most critical areas where our advertisements and job specifications can be re-written & enhanced for the greatest effect through new communication strategies and alternative language styles.”

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.

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For more information, please contact Professor Louise Mullany, School of English, University of Nottingham via email louise.mullany@nottingham.ac.uk or Emma Rayner, Media Relations Manager on 07738 291242 or emma.rayner@nottingham.ac.uk

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The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. Ranked 103rd out of more than 1,000 institutions globally and 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2022, the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its crowning as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 Sports University of the Year. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

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