Writing a diversity statement

by Joseph

A good diversity statement can help you stand out from the crowd and get more diverse applicants. A bad one can backfire and put people off applying.

Avoid sounding like a robot lawyer

“We are an equal opportunities employer committed to diversity and treating all employees with dignity and respect regardless of background.”

Sound familiar? Many companies now put some diversity boilerplate along the same lines at the bottom of all of their job adverts. The goal is to demonstrate their diversity bonafides and ward off any potential lawsuits.

The problem is, that’s exactly how they come across. A depressing number of these statements read like they’ve been written by a legal robot rather than a human being. This particularly egregious example comes from a major aerospace firm:

[We are] committed to promoting a diverse and inclusive workforce that is capable of continuing to contribute to the growth and development of the organisation. Research has demonstrated that companies who regard Diversity and Inclusion as a key component of their business strategy have higher percentages of both business success and engaged employees. As such we have recently started our Diversity and Inclusion journey strengthening our activities.

This statement sends the less than ideal message that the company is only committed to being inclusive because some research told them to be. It is perhaps very honest, but it’s unlikely to encourage many applicants. How you say something is often more important than what you say.

A bad diversity statement can backfire

A bad diversity statement can actually have the exact opposite effect of what’s intended, putting off candidates from underrepresented groups because it sends the message that they are being hired for symbolic or regulatory reasons, rather than because of their ability. 1

At the same time, diversity language can also have a negative impact on overrepresented groups. Researchers at UC Santa Barbara and the University of Washington found that young white men were much more stressed and performed worse when applying for a job at an explicitly pro-diversity company 2.

It may seem then that it’s best to avoid them completely, but don’t give up just yet. Adverts with good diversity statements have been found to bring in more applicants from all demographic groups, and to fill vacancies faster than those without one 3. It is possible to strike a balance by taking some care over the wording. Take this example from the Satellite Applications Catapult:

At the Satellite Applications Catapult, we strive to respect the diversity of our staff and ensure that inclusion is at the heart of everything we do. We know that the diversity of our teams, and the respect that our staff feel from others, is one of the factors that keeps us on the cutting edge of innovation. Every day this means we work together to make the most of our differences and celebrate our unique contributions to the amazing work we do. Only by being 100% yourself in the workplace will you feel comfortable to perform at your best.

Satellite Applications Catapult 4

They manage to make the same point about the value that diversity brings to their organisation, but at the same time make it clear that this is not the only reason diversity and inclusion are important. The focus is not on the organisation avoiding accusations of discrimination, but on the candidate being comfortable at work and able to perform.

Back up your statement with action

A diversity statement is only step one in making your organisation inclusive. As well as talking the talk, you need to be walking the walk. Your statement needs to be backed up by action.

Monzo, a leading online bank, goes a step further in their diversity statement and talks about some of their inclusive practices:

We care deeply about inclusive working practices and diverse teams. If you’d prefer to work part-time or as a job-share, we’ll facilitate this wherever we can – whether to help you meet other commitments or to help you strike a great work-life balance. We’re keen to ensure we’re designing a bank that works for everyone, so we particularly encourage applications from different underrepresented demographics.

Monzo 5

This gives potential applicants much more confidence that these are not just empty words and that this really will be a great place to work.

Diversity statements are tricky to get right, but they are important and are a key element in recruiting more diversely. Underrepresented groups are more likely to consider applying when there is evidence a company really is inclusive 6. They are however just one piece of the puzzle. As researchers from Stanford University and the University of Toronto eloquently put it:

Simply advertising oneself as an equal-opportunity or diversity-friendly employer does not solve the underlying problem of discrimination. Pro-diversity statements may give you a more diverse applicant pool, but it takes more to make workplaces truly fair and inclusive.

Kang et al. 7

Some good diversity statements

Stripe

At Stripe, we're looking for people with passion, grit, and integrity. You're encouraged to apply even if your experience doesn't precisely match the job description. Your skills and passion will stand out—and set you apart—especially if your career has taken some extraordinary twists and turns. At Stripe, we welcome diverse perspectives and people who think rigorously and aren't afraid to challenge assumptions.

Cisco

At Cisco, each person brings their unique talents to work as a team and make a difference. Yes, our technology changes the way the world works, lives, plays and learns, but our edge comes from our people.

Basecamp

We strongly encourage candidates of all different backgrounds and identities to apply. Each new hire is an opportunity for us to bring in a different perspective, and we are always eager to further diversify our company. Basecamp is committed to building an inclusive, supportive place for you to do the best and most rewarding work of your career.

Fat Beehive

At Fat Beehive, we have to do our bit to redress this imbalance and recognise the positive value of diversity, promote equality and challenge unfair discrimination. We aim at all times to recruit the person who is most suited to the job and welcome applications from people of all backgrounds – men and women, people of all ages, sexual orientations, nationalities, religions and beliefs.

Fat Beehive is dedicated to providing a friendly, relaxed, safe, fulfilling and fair work environment. We want to create a workspace where people want to come to work and that engages them to give their best. Attracting, recruiting, developing and inspiring the very best people – people who are happy and engaged in their work do a better job – which ultimately makes it easier for us to delight our clients.

Snook

We strive for diversity in our team. If we’re going to design services for the public we need to ensure our team is inclusive. We welcome applications from people of all backgrounds and ages.

Monzo

We care deeply about inclusive working practices and diverse teams. If you’d prefer to work part-time or as a job-share, we’ll facilitate this wherever we can – whether to help you meet other commitments or to help you strike a great work-life balance. We’re keen to ensure we’re designing a bank that works for everyone, so we particularly encourage applications from different underrepresented demographics.

Atlassian

It's our mission to unleash the potential in every team, and we know that teams perform best when they are diverse and every team member feels that they belong. It's the unique contributions of all Atlassians that drive our success, and we're committed to building a culture where everyone has the opportunity to do meaningful work and be recognized for their efforts. To that end, we are committed to providing an environment free of discrimination for everyone.

References

  1. Leibbrandt, A. and List, J.A. (2018). Do Equal Employment Opportunity Statements Backfire? Evidence From A Natural Field Experiment On Job-Entry Decisions. National Bureau of Economic Research.
  2. Dover, T.L., Major, B., and Kaiser, C.R. (2016). Members of high-status groups are threatened by pro-diversity organizational messages. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
  3. Sanchez, C. (2020). How to write a job description in 2020: Best practices from half a billion job postings. Textio.
  4. Satellite Applications Catapult (2020). Current Vacancies. Satellite Applications Catapult.
  5. Monzo (2020). Heads of Decision Science at Monzo. Startup.jobs.
  6. Zalis, S. (2019). Inclusive ads are affecting consumer behavior, according to new research. Google.
  7. Kang et al. (2016). The Unintended Consequences of Diversity Statements. Harvard Business Review.