When it comes to diversity & inclusion, it’s not just about what you say — it’s about what you write
My entire life I’ve had to explain to people how to speak to me and about me. My mother is Mexican and my father, Puerto Rican. Growing up, I spent my early adolescent life with people always pointing out how I said ‘tortilla’ or ‘salsa’ different from them. I spent a lot of time explaining why I “wouldn’t just speak English because this was America.” I tried to explain why my culture and my language was so important to me as an American. I learned early on, that while our letters looked the same, didn’t sound the same. I remember thinking:
“This language wasn’t made for me.”
Things got even more complicated when I came out as non-binary (which means that who I am in my head is neither a woman nor a man) last year.
I had to explain to my parents that I wasn’t their ‘hija’ (daughter) anymore, but I was their child. I had to explain that they couldn’t say ‘ella’ (she) anymore and they should say “they” instead. I realized that my native tongue that I had clutched onto for so many years, had been betraying me. A part of why it took me so long to understand my non-binary identity was because I didn’t even have the words to describe myself; Latinx — a gender-neutral alternative of Latino/Latina — didn’t even exist until a couple years ago.
Language has always been a continuous obstacle in my life. Who I am and the ways language has impacted me, are married.
A Clean Slate
After coming out, I decided I wanted to live in a city where no one knew me by my birth name, so I started looking for jobs on the West Coast. I saw a position for a Diversity & Inclusion role at a major tech company in the Bay Area and I applied through the company’s online system. When asking for my name, there was only a field to write my legal name, which is my birth name. Every time I met someone new in my final round, I spent the first 10 minutes explaining why my birth name wasn’t my actual name. Instead of actually interviewing for the job, these conversations turned into basic training in trans and gender-nonconforming etiquette. It feels needless to say, but you should know that I didn’t get the job. After, I kept thinking to myself:
“How do you get a job when people don’t have the words to describe you?”
Everything that I already knew about being trans in the workforce was playing out before my own eyes. Trans people experience unemployment at 3x than the rest of the population and if you’re a person of color that goes up to 4x. I kept thinking of ways that I could land a job without bringing up who I was or, better, hide it. I had visions of a ‘Trojan Horse’ moment where I’d land the job as a woman and then come out as nonbinary later — but there was no way I was going back in the closet. I wanted a to work somewhere where I could bring my authentic self to work and not have to spend extra mental and emotional energy hiding. I wanted to join a company who saw me and accepted me.
Hopeless, I stared at my LinkedIn feed. I kept seeing this company called Textio pop up, so I did some digging and was immediately drawn in. The CEO was this badass woman with a Ph.D. in linguistics from UPenn and the team had invented Augmented Writing. After speaking to the CEO, I realized I had never met another human more deliberate and intentional with their words. It wasn’t just her, either. Everyone I interviewed with was careful and non-assumptive. I felt like I was dreaming.
Not only was my interview with Textio better than I could have imagined, their work was backing up everything I had ever experienced in terms of how much impact language has on inclusivity — with real data. Textio analyzes the language in job descriptions and predicts who will get hired and how fast. It just doesn’t analyze the words you used, but how the words are strung together and their format. For instance, job postings that are more than 50% bulleted content will most likely attract men to the role. And that’s just the beginning.
Candidates Want Inclusivity
Textio shows people how to improve their language to be more inclusive. When using Textio, there’s this little gender tone meter that predicts the gender of the people you will attract based on the language you’ve written. Companies who use Textio are getting 23% more women applying to their roles and 25% more qualified applicants. The data in Textio shows that gender-neutral jobs fill faster than ones that are biased. The most qualified candidates care about inclusion and want to work for inclusive companies.
While Textio can be a first step to writing more inclusive and effective job postings, it is exactly the first step.
If your company says they “value their LGBTQ brothers and sisters,” you should be able to explain how. Are their “brother and sisters” trans? Do they have access to gender-affirming surgeries under your healthcare plan? Can they pee safely in your office? If not, your gender-neutral job description and the rainbow on your website meant nothing.
To get this right and to have any lasting impact, we need to have more follow through. We need to systematically address the unconscious bias in our hiring, in our daily interactions, in our workplaces, and even in our systems and software (yes, applicant tracking systems too). We need to get clear on our values and explicit on why having people like us at the table is important. We’ve got to commit to a more systemic approach, and we first have to all know and agree that we’re up against a systemic problem.
I work at Textio because I believe that language has a lasting impact. I want more people like me reading words, envisioning ourselves in spaces that weren’t designed to just “include” us, but that were designed to celebrate us. Approaching what we say — and what we write — is just the beginning.
Special thanks to Erin Bryce Greenawald and Stacey Lastoe for their edits on this.