Almost every US company does this one thing to signify commitment to diversity—do job-seekers even notice?

Most companies aren’t legally required to include EEO statements in job postings, yet do so anyway.
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Picture a US job posting. Now, describe it in detail. It might include a description of the role, core responsibilities, minimum and preferred qualifications, and perhaps a salary range or an explanation of benefits. But what about an equal employment opportunity (EEO) statement?

The majority of job-seekers in the US, according to SHRM knowledge advisor Karen Burke and recruiter Keirsten Greggs, pay little to no attention to EEO declarations—the statements certifying that companies will not make hiring decisions based on legally protected criteria like race or gender.

Even though such statements are optional for non-federal contractors and subcontractors, Burke estimates that if she reviewed 100 job postings for US positions, 98 would list an EEO statement. The practice has gotten so ubiquitous, Burke and Greggs agreed, that including a diversity statement offers applicants little meaningful information about a company’s unique approach to diversity and inclusion.

“You asked me if I think people read [EEO statements], and I don’t,” Greggs told HR Brew. “The reason why…is because they’re just automatic at this point…A recruiter doesn’t really pay attention to it either.”

However, academic studies have found that applicants from traditionally underrepresented communities may carefully review EEO statements for clues about an organization’s culture. If the posting is poorly designed, some research suggests, the statements meant to signal inclusion can inadvertently deter them from applying.

What’s in a word? The main point of an EEO statement, according to Amanda Klysing, a social psychology researcher and doctoral candidate at Lund University, is to “broaden the applicant pool” when companies otherwise attract homogenous candidates. She said that the effort has to start with a reckoning where HR considers how they’re describing their organizational culture and values to candidates.

“What are we saying? What are we communicating to people who may want to apply to us?” she suggested asking. That calculus, Klysing said, should include explicit communication as well as what companies may be implicitly communicating—perhaps unintentionally—through word choice.

In a 2021 study, Klysing coauthored a study that examined the impact of gendered language in Swedish EEO statements. They compared applicants’ reactions to EEO statements that represented gender as binary (women and men), diverse (including nonbinary and trans identities), or deemphasized entirely. Participants who identified as either male or female behaved as Burke or Greggs might predict—they had no preference between the listings. However, “gender minority” participants “found the organization less attractive when it had an EEO statement that only mentioned women and men,” Klysing said. Gender minority participants were equally likely to prefer gender diverse or degendered language.

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It gets complicated when one tries to extrapolate that guidance to other dimensions of identity, like race or ethnicity. Leigh Wilton, assistant professor of psychology at Skidmore, has been studying the impacts of diversity statements since 2015. When considering the best approach to discussing race, she said the literature is clear: A “colorblind” approach, the corollary to Klysing’s degendered condition, is a huge no-no.

“There’s a huge, huge literature on this—showing that, in general, ‘colorblind’ or race decentralizing statements…lead to more negative outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities,” Wilton said.

More is more. In good news for HR, Klysing stressed that few applicants are only reading EEO statements to understand an organization’s position on diversity.

“Applicants don’t usually stop at just one form of organizational communication,” she said. “[They] tend to go to websites [and] look at the other organization’s information [or] social media.”

Wilton’s research suggests that EEO statements are often aspirational anyway—the values a company tells itself it espouses. Candidates, she said, want to see evidence of inclusion in practice. To find it, Burke said they might seek out organizational demographics, information on where companies choose to recruit, and check whether employees with diverse backgrounds are highlighted on the career experience page.

Ultimately, Wilton said that companies that choose to list EEO statements because they believe in the mission of diversity and inclusion shouldn’t get rid of them because of possible problems—but they shouldn’t rest on them either.

“The key is working…to go beyond just the statement, go beyond recruitment, [and] to really think about…actually creating these environments where there is true inclusivity.”—SV

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