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Avoiding harmful language in hiring content

Often, without even realizing it, people use offensive or problematic language in the workplace. In some cases, the offenses are blatant and obvious, but frequently they are subtle or hidden in the historic origins of the phrase. Regardless of intent, using these words can risk your reputation and be off-putting to many. Even worse, their use can be devastating to potential applicants, demoralizing for current employees, and damaging to the inclusive company culture you want to build.

Textio has long had the capability to call an author’s attention to offensive phrases in their writing. Today, we’re expanding this feature by:

  • Increasing the number of offensive and harmful phrases in Textio’s language database
  • Highlighting language that may be harmful, depending on the specific context
  • Providing a list of resources to help writers educate themselves about harmful language

In this update, we are focusing on language that might be well-intentioned but is nevertheless offensive. Specifically, we are targeting language that is disrespectful to a person's identity or rooted in racism, sexism, or ableism.

To help writers be more informed and intentional in their communication, we gathered expertise from a number of sources, including dictionaries that document derogatory and offensive language; the American Psychology Association’s Style Guide for Bias-Free Language; and organizations working at the intersection of social justice and language, such as Advancement Project, The Opportunity Agenda, and Race Forward.

Language guidance in Textio around using the term "tribe"

Harmful language

Phrases that are harmful are highlighted in orange in Textio. Like other orange phrases, these phrases reduce your Textio Score.

One example is using the term minorities to refer to non-white racial and ethnic groups collectively. First, it is best to refer to groups using specific names whenever possible.  Second, the term minorities can be degrading because it is typically associated with deficiency and inferiority. When you need to use a collective term, instead of using minorities—which is also simply inaccurate in many contexts—consider using people of color or underrepresented groups.

Potentially harmful language

Some phrases are harmful only when used incorrectly. Textio lets you know when these phrases are problematic, and guides you toward better options.

One example is the term Latino. Because this is a gendered (i.e., masculine) phrase, it isn’t appropriate in all contexts. Textio suggests that you consider using gender-neutral alternatives such as Latinx or Latine if you are intending to be inclusive of all genders.

Resources to learn more about harmful language

To learn more about the harmful language we are targeting, you can reference our sources below.

Textio’s offensive language guidance helps you avoid harmful mistakes before you make them. With Textio, companies that value inclusion can ensure the intent and impact of their language are aligned.

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