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Is employer branding discriminatory? (part 2)

Avoid turning off diverse candidates with recruitment messaging
human resources
Diversity and inclusion are important concepts not only in complying with the law, but can also act as a competitive advantage when serving diverse markets. shutterstock

By Brian Kreissl

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post asking whether employer branding could ever be considered discriminatory. Specifically, I dealt with social media job advertisements targeting or even excluding jobseekers belonging to certain age and demographic groups

While I’m not a human rights lawyer or a diversity expert, I speculated that a Canadian court or human rights tribunal would likely rule against an employer that went as far as to deliberately exclude people from certain age groups from actually viewing a job posting. Understanding who is likely to apply for a job and carefully crafting a message designed to appeal to those people is one thing, but deciding that certain people shouldn’t even receive the message goes way too far. 

While I haven’t had any negative feedback or comments on my earlier post, I do believe there is another angle to consider here and I want to present that other consideration. In particular, employers need to be mindful of diversity and be very wary of turning off candidates who don’t match the standard profile of the typical job applicant (or “persona” using marketing parlance). 

Employers obviously know who is applying for their jobs and are likely tracking that type of information. There is no arguing that age, life stage, education, social class and sometimes even gender have an impact on who is more likely to apply to a specific employer or job vacancy.

Not turning off diverse applicants

The point is we need to ensure that the people not matching the profile of the typical applicant still feel comfortable applying for the job and aren’t turned off by the organization’s messaging and branding. Recruitment advertising isn’t the same as advertising for goods and services. 

For one thing, a human rights commission or tribunal is unlikely to take an organization to task for not having a diverse enough customer or client base. Let’s face it, a skateboard manufacturer isn’t likely to spend too much time and resources targeting and promoting their products to people over 65.

On the other hand, outright refusal to sell to a protected class of individuals would likely amount to discrimination under Canadian human rights legislation. This includes egregious examples like cases where bakeries, citing religious beliefs, refuse to bake cakes for same-sex weddings.

But because of the sensitive nature of the employment relationship and the need to avoid discrimination and promote diversity, employers need to be very careful to use inclusive language in their job advertising. Using terms like “bubbly personality” or “high energy” might be seen to discriminate against older applicants, as would an ad encouraging applications from “digital natives.” Similarly, not using gender-neutral language can be seen as sexist and discriminatory.

Having a meaningful commitment to diversity and inclusion

Having a meaningful commitment to diversity and inclusion articulated in the form of a diversity statement on your corporate careers page and individual job postings is important. It is also important to employ multiple candidate sourcing strategies and engage in community outreach in order to find and attract diverse candidates. Simply using one specific job board or social media site might not achieve the desired results. 

How diverse employees are treated once they join the organization also has a major impact on employer branding (sometimes referred to as talent branding from an internal perspective), as well as employee retention and engagement. An example might be how the “bro culture” in some tech firms sometimes turns off women, older employees and people of diverse racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Diversity and inclusion are important concepts not only in complying with the law, but can also act as a competitive advantage when serving diverse markets. Studies also show that having diverse teams and workforces can improve decision-making and avoid groupthink.

To respect diversity and to be truly inclusive requires employers to be mindful not only of their messaging during the recruitment process, but also in relation to existing employees. Being inclusive improves retention, motivation and the effective deployment of diverse talent.

There is nothing wrong with understanding who your job applicants and employees tend to be and making attempts to attract and retain those people, but you need to be welcoming and inclusive towards others as well. Employers artificially narrow their talent pool when they fail to reach diverse candidates or don’t consider non-traditional applicants for positions within the organization.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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