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  • Writer's pictureIllyana M

Encouraging inclusive language in the workplace.

At WiTCH we believe that inclusive language is the key to making inclusive workplaces and communities. In this article, we will cover what inclusive language is, why it’s essential, and what you can do to help encourage use in the workplace.

It is a banner with a picture of paper of a diverse range of colours cut out as humans in a circle holding hands that says how to encourage inclusive language in the workplace.

What is inclusive language?

Before discussing ways to encourage inclusive language in the workplace, it is crucial to understand what it is. The Linguistic Society of America defines inclusive language as “language that acknowledges diversity, conveys respect to all people, is sensitive to differences, and promotes equal opportunities.”

Quite simply, it is using language consciously to create inclusion, understanding, and belonging. It avoids using language that reinforces stereotypes or prejudice based on age, class, socioeconomic status, disability, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, or body size.

Why should you use inclusive language?

  • Using inclusive language creates a greater sense of belonging for individuals in communities and businesses which can boost confidence, motivation, and overall job satisfaction.

  • It improves communication and collaboration between colleagues, leading to better teamwork, understanding and more innovative problem-solving.

  • It helps reduce discrimination and both conscious and unconscious bias by actively discouraging exclusionary language and conduct.

  • From an organisational standpoint, using inclusive language helps build more inclusive company cultures and helps lead to a more diverse and inclusive workforce, which can lead to making more money. Don’t believe us? A study by McKinsey & Company shows a direct correlation between more diverse teams and better financial performance.

How can individuals encourage inclusive language in an organisation?

  1. Educate yourself – Take the initiative to start educating yourself about inclusive language, its significance and impact on others. Importantly, stay informed about best practices and guidelines as they can often change due to the fluid nature of language.

  2. Be a role model – The true lead by example, become an ambassador for inclusive language in your workplace. Use inclusive language when talking to others, and encourage your peers to do the same which leads nicely to our third tip.

  3. Start the conversation- Start talking with colleagues, managers, and your staff (if applicable) about why inclusive language is so essential, especially highlighting the benefits of using it. Explain why reviewing policies and hiring procedures to ensure they use inclusive language can diversify the workplace and create a more psychologically safe environment. If you have policies or procedures that you are responsible for this is a great place to start and be proactive.

  4. Speak Up - While it may not be comfortable for everyone, challenging someone if they are using non-inclusive language can be powerful and doesn’t have to be complicated. Use private, gentle feedback in the moment to get the best result. For example, taking someone aside after a presentation and saying, “I know you didn’t mean anything by it, but in the future, can we use the phrase staff bandwidth instead of manhours as it is more inclusive.” Gentle feedback can help start conversations in a way which is not overly confrontational.

What does inclusive language look like?

Using plain language – Using plain language instead of jargon or expressions can help understanding. Not all cultures share the same expression so understanding jargon or colloquialism for you could be a “piece of cake”, not everyone might have heard the term. This type of communication can also benefit those on the neurodiverse spectrum who prefer concise speech that conveys precisely what it means.

Avoid Gendered Language - One of the easiest ways to use inclusive language is to remove gendered language, using “they” instead of “he” or “she”. This also applies to gendered terms such as “man up” or “Female Founder” instead of using terminology such as “be brave” or “founder” instead. This also applies when speaking about family members using the term partner or spouse is a lot more inclusive than saying husband or wife.

Asking about preference – When interacting with people, one of the ways you can demonstrate your intention to use inclusive language is to ask, “How do you wish for me to refer to you?” or when at events “How would you like me to introduce you?” These are small acts that show kindness without any effort.

Stay clear of terms related to race, ethnicity, nationality, and culture – Many commonplace terms in tech and cyber would not be considered inclusive language. For example, blacklist/whitelist instead use block list/ allow list, another example of this is master/slave which has a few options for replacements our favourite being hive/done. One of the great places to find neutral terminology for tech and cyber terms is Microsoft’s Style Guide, while many of the words in their dictionary are how they are used internally and are not relevant where there are non-inclusive terminology, they have great examples of alternatives and also examples for using more specific terms to help with more transparent communication.

Speaking mindfully- Speaking mindfully is the practice of being fully present during your conversations. , this means thinking before you speak, not only choosing your words wisely but choosing positive and inclusive terminology.

For more guides and examples of inclusive language such as ageist language and inclusivity make sure to follow our Instagram as we will be doing a series of posts based on what terminology you should be using to be more inclusive for each category: age, class, socioeconomic status, disability, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, or body size.

What happens if you get it wrong?

It can be challenging to use inclusive language 100% of the time even with the best intentions. Language is fluid and oftentimes words and terminologies can change. This means that even if you try your hardest you may make a mistake. If that happens apologise and use to learn - ask about what terminology should be used, or how you should address something. This is a learning experience and a chance to grow.

Cut out paper human shapes in a circle with the quote "handle them carefully for words have more power than atoms bombs" from Pearl Stachan Hurd

It is important to remember that inclusive language isn’t just the politically correct thing to do, at the heart of it inclusive language is about being kind to others. It is so much more than just a tick-box exercise. By encouraging inclusive language, both companies and individuals can create an environment that fosters growth, understanding, and success where all employees feel valued and respected.

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