The most powerful tool that we humans have is language. It has the ability to bind and instruct us. If language is used well, it creates unanimous understanding.
Caroline Forsey suggested that inclusive language avoids biases, slang, or expressions that discriminate against groups of people based on race, gender, or socioeconomic status. Inclusive language allows you to resonate with more audiences by speaking and writing in more impartial ways(Forsey,2019)1.
Thus, it becomes essential that an inclusive environment is created at the workplace so that everyone feels welcomed. Usually, language makes a lot of people from diverse communities feel left out. People from diverse communities have been marginalized and discriminated against because of their culture, race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, socioeconomic status, appearance, and more.
This can be improved. The goal of inclusiveness is to make all individuals be treated equally without partiality and indignity. Thus, bringing everyone together without any exclusions. It is asking something of us and asking us to do something. The goal of inclusive language is to change our deeply embedded habits. To consider the implications of words and phrases that have long gone unchallenged. To dig deep into empathy and imagine an experience not our own.
This change of language might seem unnecessary at first. Even if you take the necessary steps sometimes, you can end up offending people. It is a long journey of including inclusive language in your vernacular language usage. So much is gained during this process of learning.
As stated by Neil 2019, “Communication is not what you say, but how it’s heard2.” Making changes to use more inclusive language offers us a chance to grow and become better communicators while also caring for those we’re communicating with. “It’s been beneficial for me to move away from ‘Oh that’s not what I meant, I meant it in this way, you’re reading too much into it’ straight to ‘You’re right. I apologize for not understanding what that word meant to you. I’m going to work on this and try to be better3,’ “Niel shared.
This spirit of self-improvement is instrumental and is required for increasing inclusion at the workplace.
It is not required that you overthink each word. A few important principles can take you quite far. Here are some recommendations that many folks involved with diversity and inclusion recommend.
Put people first:
Default to person-first constructions that put the person ahead of their characteristics, e.g., instead of “a blind man” or “a female engineer,” use “a man who is blind” or “a woman on our engineering team.” The idea of people’s first language encourages you to understand that people come before their designations. Focus on characteristics like gender, sexual orientation, religion, racial group, or ability when the discussion requires you to. Don’t use jargon, idioms, and acronyms. Jargon and acronyms can exclude people who may not have specialized knowledge of a particular subject and impede effective communication as a result(Forsey, 2019)4. Sometimes idioms don’t fare well from country to country and can have negative stereotypes attached to them (“hold down the fort,” “call a spade a spade” are some examples). While focusing on disability, avoid leveraging victimhood on the person, e.g., “afflicted by,” “victim of,” “suffers from,” “confined to a wheelchair.” While you’re at it, steer clear of euphemisms like “challenged,” “differently-abled,” or “specially-abled,” too.
Don’t underplay the impact of mental disabilities:
Mental disorders like “bipolar,” “O.C.D.,” and “A.D.D.” are descriptors of actual psychiatric disabilities that people suffer from. They shouldn’t be thrown around callously. Also, using derogatory terms for mental health reinforces stigma around mental health, for example, “crazy,” “mad, “schizo,” or “psycho.”Strive to include language that feels inclusive of a diverse group of people.
Do not use company or team acronyms:
According to Fleishman,20195, “Acronyms have become part of most companies’ vocabulary, but they can be alienating for new employees, candidates, or global teams.“
You might be using bigger acronyms without understanding their implications on other members of your team. And if your company does choose to use specific acronyms (like, in HubSpot’s case, H.E.A.R.T.), explain it to your employees during the orientation session of their joining.
Focus on using plain language in your writing rather than unnecessary jargon:
Cultural expressions are a part of our vernacular language. For instance, I often say, “It’s just a ballpark figure” or “it should be a piece of cake” without pausing to consider whether the listener knows or has heard the term before.
The majority of the world can find it confusing. However, if you are a multinational company with chains across the global common linguistic expressions can cause a hindrance in communication.
For example, in Dunn’s Medium article, she writes, “We also avoid using metaphors (visual and written) that are specific to just one culture or class. So, for instance, we avoid using phrases like ‘knock it out of the park’ or ‘hit a home run,’ even though these phrases are pretty common in North America because they’re just not going to resonate outside of the U.S. Not because people will be offended by a reference to baseball, but because they won’t be as familiar, so the meaning won’t be as clear Forsey,2019)6.“
Your company’s design, ethics, and pictures should reflect a diverse group of people and that you are focused on inclusion. If potential customers look at your website, they want to see themselves reflected as a part of your company. Simultaneously, you also want potential hires to feel welcomed and excited to be a part of your group.
If you don’t take measures, you are most likely to miss on your potential customers.
In her Medium post, Dunn writes, “Our product illustrators try to ensure that the people we represent in illustrations are diverse in appearance and that these different types of people are represented doing many different things (for instance, a person of color doing the talking while others listen, a woman in a wheelchair at an executive desk, etc.)(Forsey,2019)7.”
While scaling your company, you want to include as many marketing materials for reaching out to maximum people; otherwise, the message that you are sending is that you don’t need a diverse group of people, and your company “isn’t quite right for them.”
You should ask individuals if they have their preferred pronouns when called in public.
There is no objective right or wrong regarding language, and there is no one size fits all for many people. People have personal preferences and identities when it comes to gender.
Since people have different preferences when it comes to personal identity, when a person’s first identity was introduced, some people felt dehumanizing the person to just their disability—for example, people who suffer from autism.
Some people prefer identity-first language (i.e., “autistic people”) since they accept that autism is an integral part of their identity; identity-first language can even help evoke a sense of pride among individuals.