Great organisations know that when their teams are made up of people with different backgrounds, experiences and ways of seeing the world, they’re more successful. Typically, they’re more innovative and happier too.
So they write job ads and workplace policies that go out of their way to show how inclusive they are. And that’s when two horrendous words creep in:
We are committed to positive employment policies to promote equal opportunity in employment regardless of sexual orientation, age, marital status, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, religion or disability…
Applicants are considered solely on the basis of their merits, abilities and potential, regardless of gender, ethnic or national origin, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation or any other irrelevant distinction.*
*Lifted from UK company websites this week.
The problem with “regardless of”
These two words position the organisation that writes them as the majority, “normal” group – and as though you feel you’re benevolently allowing minorities into your club. It maybe even sounds like people should be grateful you’re making allowances for them.
This is probably the very last thing you want any job ad to sound like. But it’s exactly what you imply when you use these words.
Very few people are consciously, overtly racist, sexist or in any other nasty way, bigoted. But I suspect far more people – even those who would hate to believe their world view is shaped in this way – just fall into the framework of perceptions that exists all around them. In many ways, this is more problematic than overt nastiness – because people don’t even know they’re doing it. It’s what results in all-white, male, middle class boards of directors thinking: Women are marvellous, and if only they learned to put themselves out there a bit more, well then maybe one of them might even get a seat at the table.
It’s a lazy view of the world that completely misses the point. The problem isn’t a woman’s for not putting herself forward or a non-binary person’s for not putting themselves out there. The problem isn’t the person of colour’s or the person whose brain is wired differently or the gay person’s. It isn’t the problem of the person with a disability.
The problem is with systemic thinking that says to progress, you have to adapt your own great self to conform to the norms of a dominant group.
The point of diversity isn’t to give people with different experiences of life the opportunity to join an exclusive club. It’s to change the rules altogether so that exclusivity doesn’t exist.
“Regardless of” smacks of the club. You read it and know that even if this organisation says it wants you to join, the club still exists. So it feels tokenistic and depressing.
So try this instead:
This organisation needs all kinds of great minds, with different views and experiences to make it successful. We can’t wait to hear everything you have to offer – and all the experiences and insights you can share to make us sharper and better. The more diverse we are, the more successful we are – so come and join us. We’re a place where every single person is valuable and celebrated.
If you’d like help to make your language more inclusive, you know where to find us.