A recent job ad posted in Tasmania sparked a huge outcry for using the phrase ‘no Indians or Asians please’. Written by a cleaning sub-contractor for Coles, it was clearly a case of blatant racism and condemned as such by everyone, including the management of Coles.
It was probably written as the result of ignorance rather than malice, but it got me thinking about the recruitment ads I see from time to time that seem discriminatory to me, but in much more subtle ways.
One phrase I see regularly is ‘person sought for young, vibrant company’. Obviously because they know they can’t advertise for a young person (which would be ageist), they get around it by describing their company as young and vibrant, thus implying that they are looking for similar applicants, sending a clear message to me that older applicants need not apply.
According to anti-discrimination legislation, you are allowed to advertise for a ‘junior’, if the job pays a junior salary or if you advertise it as a ‘junior position’ within the hierarchy of the company. Using the words ‘young’, ‘vibrant’, ‘mature’ or ‘senior’ to describe a desired candidate are not allowed however and can attract a claim of discrimination.
You can use those words in other ways though. For example, it is not considered discriminatory to advertise for someone who has a ‘mature outlook’, because both old and young people could arguably possess this quality.
Similarly, if you advertise for someone with 10 years experience (clearly an older person), that is discriminatory, but call it ‘considerable’ or ‘extensive’ experience instead and that is fine. Seems a bit like word games to me.
Boys (or Girls) Only
I still see gender-specific terms like ‘tradesman’, ‘storeman’ ‘salesman’ and ‘Girl Friday’ used in job ads, but by and large, people seem to have learned the lessons regarding sexual discrimination and are mostly quite PC about how they advertise jobs that could be performed equally well by either sex.
Something called ‘new age’ discrimination seems to have appeared in its place though. This is discrimination against someone because of a disability and, here again, a form of ‘double speak’ seems to be employed.
Whereas advertising for ‘able-bodied’ candidates is clearly discriminating against those who have a disability, saying that someone ‘must have a driver’s licence’ when it is clearly a desk job, is a more subtle way of doing the same thing.
Another common requirement in many job ads is ‘English must be your first language’. Admittedly the jobs being advertised are writing jobs that require a certain ability with words, but surely the question of whether English is your first or second language should not come into it. Could you not be someone who speaks both languages equally fluently?
Because the job boards I am referring to are visited by lots of people from foreign countries, I would be more inclined to interpret ‘English must be your first language’ as ‘no Indians or Asians please’.
This more subtle form of discrimination in job ads would seem to be very much in the eye of the beholder. What I see as discriminatory, you may not.
How to Avoid Discriminating
The test for what is deemed discriminatory is whether a reasonable person with no special knowledge would consider it so. I consider myself a reasonable person, but maybe I’m overreacting.
- Avoid gender-based discrimination: Ensure your job title doesn’t include terms like “waitress”, “admin girl”, “mail man” or “salesman”. That way you won’t find yourself in hot water.
- Avoid racial discrimination: Even if the ability to speak a foreign language is critical to the role, it’s the proficiency in the language as opposed to one’s country of origin that is key. So “the ability to speak Mandarin is essential” is far more favourable than “you must be Chinese”.
- Avoid age discrimination: Never mention an age requirement or refer to a specific number of years someone has worked in a particular field … ever.
- Avoid disability discrimination: If physical activity is key to the role (such as a baggage attendant at the airport), ensure that the task (such as “heavy lifting”) is an absolute necessity and not just “preferred”.
Remember the purpose of a recruitment ad is to find the best candidate for the job. If you exclude various groups for whatever reasons, you are limiting the pool of applicants and thereby reducing the likelihood that the ideal candidate will be amongst them.