Originally published at louadlergroup.com
“Diversity and inclusion is more than a statement,” wrote one participant in LinkedIn’s new study on DEI statements in job posts. “A company needs to show how they have embraced diversity and inclusion,” she continued, “not just print the standard blurb on a job description.”
That message came through loud and clear in this new research. Candidates judge companies on their actions when it comes to diversity and inclusion, not just their statements — but statements still make a difference to candidates, and the "standard blurb" often falls short.
A generic diversity and inclusion statement paled in comparison to a more "empathetic" DEI statement in our study of LinkedIn members across a range of industries, roles, and career stages.
The way you write your job description could be the difference between a warm first impression and a negative one. “Actions always speak louder than words,” wrote another participant, “but words are a start.”
First, let’s cut to the chase and summarize the key results that we’ll describe in more detail later. Here’s what the study suggests:
Next, some quick context on the study: We surveyed a diverse population of 764 LinkedIn members in the United States, showing each of them two versions of a “diversity statement” that you might find in a job description or job post.
“[Company] is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy and gender identity), national origin, political affiliation, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, genetic information, age, membership in an employee organization, retaliation, parental status, military service, or other non-merit factor.”
And this was the “empathetic” version participants saw, inspired by HubSpot’s softer touch:
“There’s no such thing as a perfect candidate, so don’t let imposter syndrome hold you back. You don’t need 100% of the preferred qualifications to add incredible value to our team. Our customers come from all different backgrounds, and so do our employees. If you’re passionate about what you could accomplish here, we’d love to hear from you.”
After seeing each statement, participants were asked about their impressions of the statement, the company, and how sincerely the company values diversity and inclusion. Participants were also given the opportunity to provide longer written answers to open-ended questions — that’s where the anonymized quotes in this story come from.
Now, let’s dive into the actual data and what it means for your approach to diversity and inclusion statements.
If you only take one thing away from this study, let it be this: An empathetic voice and tone does much better than a generic copy-and-paste statement. Not only did people like the empathetic statement more, they also had a much better impression of the employer.
While less than half (48%) liked the voice of the generic statement, two-thirds (67%) of the respondents liked the voice and tone of the empathetic version.
When we asked what people thought of the imagined employer using these diversity statements in their job descriptions, the difference between the two versions was even more pronounced.
Just 44% of respondents had a positive impression of the potential employer after reading the generic diversity statement. Compare that with the empathetic statement, which left 71% of people with a positive impression of the hypothetical employer.
“The first [statement] felt obligatory, the second felt human,” said one participant. “Make your response human instead of legal and you will get a better reaction.”
“Does the statement sound like a requirement from the Legal Dept, or does it sound like a real human wrote it?” wrote a different participant in the study. “The more human, the more I am apt to believe there is a real value placed on D&I.”
The lesson: Use a more conversational tone in your diversity statements, where possible. A more authentic, “human” tone shouldn’t be limited to your job description, either. Whether it’s your company’s website or your LinkedIn Careers Page, your employer branding can use a more conversational tone to reflect what matters to your company.
Of course, that’s not to say the generic statement is bad, or that the empathetic statement is perfect.
Although many people found the generic statement, well, generic — using words like “boilerplate” and “legalese” to describe it — many also appreciated its thoroughness.
One participant neatly captured this ambivalence: “The [generic] statement seemed mostly like the company was just trying to check the box,” she wrote, “but the additional non-discriminatory factors did give me reason to believe the company cared about diversity.” People of color were slightly more likely to have a positive impression of the generic version — 54% liked the statement, compared to 48% of participants as a whole.
Another participant appreciated how the generic statement “seemed to go out of its way to make sure everyone was included.” One participant reflected that while “it is difficult to determine sincerity from words on paper,” it’s still “better to say something than nothing at all.”
Several respondents — most of them women — also called out the use of “imposter syndrome” in the empathetic statement. Some weren’t familiar with the term, while many thought it struck the wrong note.
The “imposter syndrome” part of the statement “REALLY bothered me,” wrote one woman. “It feels mansplain-y and the total opposite of inviting/inspiring,” she wrote, and then she linked to an insightful piece from Harvard Business Review titled “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome.” Another participant agreed, writing that the term “made the statement unnecessarily gendered.”
“I think [‘imposter syndrome’] is derogatory,” said another woman participating in the study. “While many people including myself might feel that way, I don't think we need to be reminded.”
Others also found the empathetic version too vague, and many found fault with both versions. “Neither of the statements were very good, in my opinion,” wrote a participant who identifies as nonbinary. “One was in dry legal terms, yet lacked some key protected classes. One was in a friendly tone, but gave no info about who is welcome or protected against discrimination.”
The same participant went on to highlight how minor changes in tone can make a big difference. “When you've faced workplace discrimination, you get a sixth sense for how word choice and tone translate to how you'll be treated in an interview,” they wrote, “and neither of those examples gave me a good vibe.”
Participants were far more likely to believe the company in the empathetic version sincerely valued diversity and inclusion, compared with their impression of the generic version.
That’s a meaningful improvement, but it still leaves more than 40% of people unconvinced. No matter what tone was used, the number of people who liked the statement was always smaller than the number of people who believed the company. In other words, even some of the people who felt positively about the statement or the company doubted their sincerity.
Candidates have good reason to be skeptical. A recent analysis of tech companies found that while many pledged to improve their diversity over the last decade, the representation of Latino and Black employees has increased by less than 1% since 2014.
That’s why the single most consistent sentiment we heard was that “actions speak louder than words.”
“This needs to extend beyond a simple statement,” in the words of one participant. “Hiring managers should be made aware and properly trained on implicit bias. HR teams also play a critical role as they are the first line of defense in this area.”
When asked how they determine whether a company sincerely values diversity and inclusion, almost no participants cited a company’s job description. Instead, some of the most common answers mentioned looking into the company’s actual hiring practices:
The top method seems to be looking into the diversity of current employees, especially leadership. As one participant wryly put it: “Job candidates are judged by their photos. Companies are judged by the photos of their employees.”
No diversity statement can cover for poor diversity practices, but the tone of your statement could still shape a candidate’s first impression when they come across your job post. With that in mind, let’s recap the takeaways from this research:
This study was conducted using an Insight Community of LinkedIn members in the United States, where 764 participants were surveyed in April 2021. The term “people of color” in our study includes members who self-identified their race as Black, Latino, Asian American, or Native American. Participants were LinkedIn members across a range of races, genders, career stages, and industries.