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Why increasing diversity starts with better job adverts

Written by: Denise Chevin MBE. Robbie Turner, Director of Inclusion and Diversity of RIBA. Amanda Winslade, RIBA Business Manager.
Published on: 13 Nov 2023

diversity starts with better job adverts

Robbie Turner, Director of Inclusion and Diversity at the RIBA, and Amanda Winslade, RIBA Business Manager, offer employers advice on broadening the appeal of their job adverts.

Getting the right person to join a practice has never been harder, or more critical. Attracting staff that reflect society and clients brings an injection of new ideas and allows the practice to flourish. But as Brexit and Covid have conspired to shrink the pool of candidates, advertising job vacancies requires greater consideration and thought than ever before.

A job advert is a shop window into the practice – its projects, its style and its working culture. But too often busy employers dash them off with little thought about what will make their practice stand out. Recruiters are fond of including a shopping list of ‘must haves’ yet make too little of the opportunities they offer to develop new skills or the attraction of flexible working. And while they undoubtedly may be seeking to increase the diversity of their staff, the language they use in their ads often inadvertently reinforces ‘more of the same.’

So how do practices get a good response to their job ads from a more diverse talent pool rather than draw replies from those who will propagate the same beliefs and culture?

Include a salary band

 It stands to reason that people are more likely to apply for a job if they have a rough idea of what they might get paid. “Having a salary band helps to promote inclusivity and helps drive down both gender and ethnicity pay gaps. Where salary bands are not detailed, it means that there's a higher risk of people being treated unfairly or with bias,” explains Robbie Turner who is the RIBA’s Director of Inclusion and Diversity. While some applicants are happy to negotiate on salary, others will find it difficult and could end up either not applying or being paid a lot less. As Amanda Winslade, RIBA Business Manager notes: “People can have excellent skills for the role, but not want to have that conversation about money. By not including the salary band you are unnecessarily cutting off a raft of people. “Architectural practices want to be ethical. And this is about the best way for them to be ethical, transparent, fair, and meet the requirements of a more modern workforce.”

Avoid a longlist of ‘essential criteria’

We’ve all seen those adverts – ‘At least five years of experience, must be a wizard in AutoCAD, award winning schools design under your belt,’ but avoid taking such as approach. “It is tempting to put in everything that you might want from the ideal candidate – but don’t” explains Turner. “While there will be groups who are more assured of their skills, and more willing to take a risk of applying for a job where they don't meet all the essential criteria, there are others who won’t apply if they can't meet them all.” Instead, it’s about thinking about what is absolutely essential and what skills are transferrable. He advises practices to describe the role, or competences needed, rather than include what are often arbitrary figures for how long someone has been qualified. If having someone who is highly experienced is essential he suggests framing it in a different way such as “significant experience in dealing with complex projects, or particular sectors such as within education.”

Don’t ask for specific job titles

If the practice is mostly men and you want more women to apply, then mentioning that candidates must be experienced in specific roles that may have been more often done by men is not a good idea either. If you are looking for a project manager – if that’s the role – then it’s ok to state that, says Turner, but it is far better to increase the pool of potential applicants by asking for experience in project management, rather than asking for someone who has held the role of a ‘project manager’. “That way you might attract excellent people who currently do project management as part of their role and are in a good position to develop their skills,” says Winslade.

Mind your language

Employers might not realise it, but words can be associated with different genders, so Turner suggests putting text for the advert through gender-coded software (which is free online). It might not be possible to avoid every gender trap (manager is associated with men, for example, while team developer, suggests female): it’s more about striking a balance overall. There are other linguistic traps to avoid too. “Come and join our energetic young business’ is a youth-coded language and might be off-putting for older candidates. You must be mindful of that as well,” says Turner.

Diversity and advertising new position

Address diversity head on

If you are looking to increase under-represented groups in the practice, then encourage them to apply. While employers cannot specifically limit the job to a specific group, they can say they are looking to widen the diversity of their workforce. Says Turner: “It’s perfectly acceptable to express sentiments along the lines of – ‘We particularly welcome applicants from architects who identify as disabled. And we understand that sometimes the interview process can be difficult to access. So please do get in touch with us in advance if there is something that we can do to, to make reasonable adjustments to the process that enables you to do so’.

He adds: “It’s about taking positive action, as opposed to positive discrimination, which is illegal. Positive action is about increasing the diversity of candidates and it is perfectly acceptable in a job advert to mention areas where you are underrepresented. If you are a practice of 10 people who are all men, it’s better to say ‘we recognise that we are not representative of the society that we're here to serve. And we would be delighted to have more women to apply as part of this process. Otherwise, when candidates look at the website, which you certainly would expect them to, and see there are only men in the team they might be put off.” On that note, companies should be aware that if they are promoting themselves as inclusive employers, their on-line presence should reflect what they say in the job ad.

Promote the positive

Architects increasingly want a good work-life balance: many juggle work with being a parent or carer to a  relative. Providing hybrid working, flexible hours, or additional holidays will make the job stand out and appeal to those who would like to move but feel trapped because the opportunities aren’t there to work more flexibly. If a bonus scheme is on offer, say so and if you possibly can, provide an indication of how much that might be, even if it is the lowest figure in the range, or a percentage of salary, or at least a lower limit.

Being a practice that is keen to promote continuous learning and development and mentioning how you do this can also be a draw. “Remember you are trying to tempt an quality applicant away from their current role and practice” says Winslade, “You should include everything that is on offer”.

Reach the widest architectural community

Promoting vacancies through a number of different channels is a no-brainer as it widens the pool of candidates. Employers or recruitment agencies who opt to use the RIBA jobs board not only reach many architects looking for a post, but the RIBA also promotes these vacancies through paid campaigns on LinkedIn, Facebook and X (formerly Twitter).  “RIBA is here to support practices and we can help employers recruit the best candidates with advice on salaries, through the RIBA benchmarking guides,” says Winslade. The RIBA job’s site can also include filters for applications, for example screening out candidates who are not ARB registered.

Collect data – so you know what is working

While there are good practices that employers should follow to appeal to more diverse range of candidates, recruitment is not an exact science. Keeping track of applications and candidates can provide companies with useful information on what works and what needs tweaking. It is not a difficult or time-consuming task and it could pay dividends for future recruitment.

Sell yourself

In short, increasing the range of candidates involves making a greater effort with job adverts. It entails crafting words that do justice to the role and the practice, rather than relying on lists of bullet points. It means using language that does not exclude good candidates by not being inclusive. As Turner and Winslade point out, an employer needs to make their vacant role stand out and communicate what makes their practice different, welcoming of diversity and a great place to work for everyone. What are they most proud of? What is going to make a new breed of professionals want to come and join you?

For more information on advertising vacancies through the RIBA contact or +44 (0)20 7307 3738