The fine line between an elite team and an elitist team
25th September 2023
You won’t have to look far to find a company careers page that describes its people as “an elite team”, “the top 1%” or “the best and the brightest”.
For decades, organisations have prided themselves on setting a high bar to entry and historically, proudly announcing that you only hire from Oxbridge, or “blue chip” firms was seen as a perfectly acceptable approach to talent acquisition.
But as we increasingly recognise the flaws in hiring only from select institutions, we mustn’t forget that the language we use has a big impact on our employer brand and who we hire.
It’s standard to screen job descriptions for gendered language, but we should also be thinking more carefully about the words we use and whether they can be exclusionary in other ways.
If you claim that you hire only “the best and the brightest”, but your workforce doesn’t reflect the diversity of the community you live in, you risk alienating the diverse candidates you need to attract.
It’s well known that academic attainment is strongly linked to economic disadvantage, ethnicity, disability and gender. When we exclude candidates based on the university they attended or the grades they achieved, we reinforce inequalities and make building a diverse workforce that much harder.
You may not be recruiting from only the most elite institutions, but if the language you use in both job descriptions and across your careers site suggests that you favour the “brightest” without explaining what you really mean, candidates will self-select out anyway.
And if you emphasise how many people you reject, you encourage candidates who have the confidence that comes with privilege while discouraging everyone else.
There is nothing wrong with having high standards. But we know that even graduates of the “top” universities aren’t entering work with the skills employers are looking for. We’ve got to do a better job of defining what “best”, “bright” and “brilliant” mean so that candidates of all backgrounds can see themselves in your roles and your organisations.
If you’re looking for ways to create a more inclusive employer brand, think about the following:
Reframe the language in your job descriptions around values and strengths, rather than specific qualifications.
If a role is entry-level, experience isn’t desirable, it’s unnecessary. If you’re going to prioritise the candidates with that experience, it negates the point of advertising an entry-level job.
Review all your careers content and the language you use. It’s great to be proud of your team but highlight that they’re good at their jobs rather than that they’re all graduates of elite institutions.
Gather data on all types of diversity and monitor drop-off points at every stage of your process. Audit those processes, make changes, and iterate.
Be honest about your gaps. Underrepresented candidates will be more encouraged to see that you recognise and are working on bridging gaps than they will be to see that you’re trying to hide them or pretending you don’t have a problem.
Most importantly of all, remember that diversity will flourish when inclusion and accessibility are done well.
About the author
Share this post: