Social Responsibility in spirit : How big are small things?

I was job-hunting last year, and found a job-posting that had the job description and requirements listed in a gender-specific language, with repeated use of ‘he’ and ‘his’.

What is the big deal? This is so commonplace, right?

Some might argue that this is in no way stopping a female or a transgender candidate from applying.

Using gender-neutral language or having to write “he or she” and “his or her” is seen as a hindrance to the flow of language — a style issue.

Isn’t this just illustrative of a prospective candidate? What if they had used “She” and “her”?

But this is coming from a “Fortune 600” company that boasts about inclusion and other socially responsible virtues as being in its bloodstream. They should be more scrupulous in their use of language.

This is not nitpicking. This is not even about gender bias. It is about how well a company’s sustainability agenda has trickled down to every nodal employee.

Using gender-neutral language may not make you a champion of gender equality overnight, I agree. The case I am making is for small things that happen regularly. Values and belief systems are built over time with small doses of messages, thoughts, and actions. You become what you pretend to be. So, wouldn’t enforcing a certain language change an attitude?

I’d hope so.

This is not about how somebody might read this posting, but is rather for the company to reflect on its communications strategy and really consider what language it wants to use.

Language could be a vehicle of change.

Repeated use of (politically) correct words and phrases in internal and external communication may reinforce the company’s values in the minds of the employees.

So I wrote to the head of communications, and never heard back. Nor was the job description corrected. This was expected. After all, this is a non-issue and does not deserve any undue attention.

Here is what I had written (slightly modified for this post):

Dear Madam / Sir,

I wish to bring to your notice a job-posting from your company, that I found on LinkedIn.

Does the poster of this job imply that this job is only for a male candidate to apply? I am alluding to the repeated use of ‘He’ in the job requirements section.

If that is not the case, I am afraid that your claim of ‘Active Inclusion’ is not working the way you may have planned. This posting looks harmless and no doubt has been created by someone who may lack language skills. But it also shows that your strategy on corporate responsibility may lack purpose OR it may not have trickled down to every leaf node in your organization.

I am aware that most businesses invest on corporate responsibility and create colorful Sustainability Reports to appease and attract customers. Businesses are started after commercial motives. But these spends could actually bring (indirect) value and make a business inherently good only if there were some effort to make sure that everyone in the organization understands the sustainability goals and feels proud about it.

I am personally pained to see that Corporate Sustainability indices, codes, and standards have really diluted the objective. Organizations strive hard to make it to these indices, but the real spirit of social responsibility is lacking — just as some may construe from your job-posting. These indices and codes are also making sustainability the new ‘business as usual’ without any regard to its holistic objective.

By correcting this job-posting, you may do well in aligning your strategic goals with the daily operations of the here and now, but we would still be far away from achieving a real sustainable future!

Market-led solutions are key to leading our world out of the current unsustainable spree. It is global giants like your company that should lead the way in finding solutions (within their own sphere of activity) for our unsustainable ways including income divide, gender-bias, and other social exclusion apart from working on reducing negative externalities arising from environmental impacts. We must do this together as responsible citizens of the world, to leave a livable planet for posterity. Though very minor, things like these postings are very discouraging and are reminding us of the distance to cover.

Thanks for your patience. My apologies if you think I have spammed you.

With my best regards,
Kannan Natesan

— —

But it is not all that gloomy.

I stumbled upon another job-posting from this company recently. As I was about to close it and move on, the phrase “He or She must have…” caught my eyes. I read on. To my pleasant surprise, they had listed the job requirements in a gender-neutral manner (barring the above-mentioned instance where they went with “He or she”). I checked a couple more and found them all to be consistent.

This made me very happy. I don’t really care if it was my email that brought about this change. Seeing this was so reassuring.

Hope in life reinstated.

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Kannan Natesan

Kannan Natesan

I am a sucker for elegantly constructed sentences and I love words. Honing my writing skills here. Support writers like me: https://knski.medium.com/membership