Change in Action: How Formlabs changed their job descriptions to be more inclusive

In Blog, Diversity & Inclusion by Rachel Murray

Meet Caitlin Outterson, who works in the People Operations team at Formlabs. Caitlin attended one of our workshops last year and has since made some changes based on her experience. We thought we’d share them with you here!

What is Formlabs and what’s your role there?
Formlabs is an incredible company of engineers, problem-solvers, designers, and people getting things done here in Somerville. We make 3D printing accessible to a wide range of customers – and we just launched new color resins! I work on the People Operations team – can you tell from the earlier sentences that I talk about Formlabs a lot for my job? My role has shifted a fair bit in the two years I’ve been here. Currently, I spend my time recruiting for our Systems, Finance, and Operations teams and thinking about what Formlings (that’s what we call employees :)) need + want to be successful here. We’re in the middle of overhauling how we onboard new Formlings, which has been a massive undertaking since we’re adding 10-15 people a month, plus interns!
What brought you to the job description workshop?
I had recently become more heavily involved with writing job descriptions and was curious to learn best practices from other folks in a similar space. In my mind, job descriptions serve three purposes: telling applicants what qualifications Formlabs is looking for, explaining what to expect from the role, and offering insight into our company culture. I’m passionate about lowering unnecessary barriers for applicants who may look, sound, or feel different than the traditional applicant to a tech company and job descriptions can play a huge role in that. We want to lay out that information for applicants in a way that encourages, rather than discourages, a wide range of people to apply.
How did you hear about us?
I think SGO was on a short list of groups in Boston that I should be aware of when I started on People Operations. Most of our team has gone to several events you all have hosted – we’re big fans!
What were your expectations going in?
I didn’t have many expectations – it was my first SGO event. I was curious to see if the content would be entirely new to me or a review of what I’ve already read.
What were your experiences during and after the workshop?
Laura Parrott, who led the workshop, walked us through some thoughts around the impact of job descriptions and how the way they’re written can impact who you interview and consequently hire. Much of it I was familiar with (how men apply to jobs they’re 60% qualified for while women only apply if they’re 100% qualified, an overview of implicit biases, etc), but Laura did a great job of pulling everyone in and getting us to offer personal and professional examples of what we were discussing. The most helpful part was looking at a Formlabs job description with another attendee to find specific improvements to make. I loved the combination of theory, practical application, and interacting with people from different companies. My partner actually worked for a company that helped other companies write job descriptions, so it was great to hear what she had to say.
Did you make any changes, and if so, what were they?
We’ve cut back on using terms like “ninja”, “rockstar”, or “guru” that you see a lot in tech startups, since those were flagged as pretty masculine in a way that lowered the number of female applicants. We tweaked the statement at the bottom of all our jobs to sound more like us, while remaining explicitly inclusive. The team also works hard to convey what specifically the role will do day-to-day in the job description (and interview process), since so often job descriptions are incredibly vague. We used a trial of Textio, a software that analyzes job descriptions and flags specific phrases to reconsider, and found it helpful. Finally, we realized that updating our jobs page with information about specific employees and what they do here goes hand-in-hand with well-written job descriptions and prioritized that revamp.
How long has it been since you’ve implemented the changes?
The team here is all about constant improvement, so we’re always tweaking how we write and what we focus on. For these specific changes, I went to the workshop last March – so since then!

Have you seen any differences so far? 
The problem with constantly calibrating and changing process is you can’t specifically attribute results to a specific cause. However, many applicants have mentioned that our job descriptions stood out to them or have specifically highlighted certain phrases that pushed them over the fence to apply. I’m always excited to see what appeals to people and what questions they have from reading the job description.

Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
Don’t be afraid to think a little outside the box on job descriptions. Our Customer Care team provides incredible technical support for Formlabs’ customers all around the world and having an excellent attention to detail and grammar is very important. We deliberately have a grammatical error in one of our job posts and mention it later in the description. I can’t tell you how many people have mentioned that error in their cover letters or interviews! We’ve found that people who notice those details have a lot of the other skills we’re looking for and it’s a great way for applicants to geek out with their grammatical knowledge. I also think it’s a great way to signal that we have a culture of empowering people to notice something is wrong and make the change. Carving out some space to think about an overall template with space to reflect the company and team culture is also incredibly helpful, even if it’s hard to find the time initially. People like having templates and examples to follow, along with the allowance to try something new.