Inclusive Language – How Does It Apply In The Workplace? 

Workplace culture is greatly influenced by what we say and don’t say while at work. The potential of inclusive language in the workplace is powerful. Everyone, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, ability, or background, can benefit from having a sense of belonging. Everybody will feel respected, valued, and a part of the team if this is the case.

We must start with how we communicate if we want to accept the various backgrounds of our employees. Employing inclusive language demonstrates to our staff that we value and accept them for who they are and is the first step toward recognising the diverse identities that exist within our organisations.

Understanding the concept is the first step. This article will discuss inclusive language in the workplace, its importance, and how you can implement them. 

What is inclusive language? 

Inclusive language avoids biases, words, slang, and other expressions that could refer to or imply discrimination against specific groups of people. Be it their racial or ethnic background, disability status, sexual orientation or gender identity, religion, socioeconomic standing, or any other characteristic. Inclusive language is respectful and sensitive to differences. It embraces variety, encourages equal possibilities, and enables managers to connect with their staff by being objective in their expression.

Therefore, utilising inclusive language goes beyond simply being courteous or using better words. It is an effort to employ language that more accurately portrays a society that is more inclusive and equitable and to address issues of misrepresentation and institutional prejudice that have persisted for too long in our culture.

Why is inclusive language important in the workplace? 

Using inclusive language in the workplace makes everyone feel seen, heard, and appreciated. You can contribute to a culture of psychological safety and respect for everyone by making a language choice that encompasses a diverse range of people and groups with divergent skill sets and competencies.

You are sending a powerful message to your employees by regularly promoting and adopting inclusive language when communicating. It also reinforces a sense of diversity and inclusion in your company culture. Moreover, it creates a human-centric work environment as you consider the impact of your chosen language and behavior on others, actively discouraging any exclusionary language and setting the stage to include other inclusive practices. 

Examples of inclusive language

In general, Inclusive language is nondiscriminatory. It stays away from words that stigmatise particular racial or ethnic groups, imply a gender binary, or have offensive historical antecedents.

  • Use gender-neutral language, such as “everyone,” “colleague,” or “audience members.” Also, take note of gender-neutral terms like “salesperson” instead of “salesman” or “firefighter” instead of “fireman.”

    In an effort to be more inclusive and gender-neutral, Air Canada has deliberately dropped the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” from its salutations. On the other hand, other airlines like United Airlines, EasyJet, and Japan Airlines have also changed their salutations to be more gender-neutral. 

Along with the traditional M and F to designate Male and Female, United Airlines also offers non-binary gender alternatives such Undisclosed (U) or Unspecified (X).

  • Introduce your pronouns and ask their pronouns in return. Tell them how you want to be addressed and how they want others to address them.
  • Be aware of your use of adjectives when describing situations or people. For example, say “a person with autism” instead of “an autistic person.” You can also say, “that movie was so disheartening,” instead of saying, “that movie was so depressing.”
  • Highlight people’s personality traits, accomplishments, or other areas of their life that are within their control rather than identifying them by their race or other physical attributes. Instead of saying, “We need to call Mark, the black guy from sales,” say, “Remember Mark from sales who was recently promoted? We need to call him.”

    For example, Apple has replaced the words “blacklist” and “whitelist” with “allow list” and “deny list,” respectively, in all of their products, business projects, and programming due to its racist roots.

How to create an inclusive culture in the workplace

Choosing an inclusive language is an active process. You must establish guidelines, training, or audit communications inside the firm to ensure that you use a language that is as inclusive as possible. It’s crucial to develop a comprehensive strategy when you begin this process; so everyone who works for your organisation understands and incorporates inclusive language into their daily activities.

Here are five strategies you can apply to create an inclusive culture in the workplace: 

always prioritise the individual.

Keep in mind that the individual is more important than their descriptor. Therefore, only mention a person’s specific trait when it is pertinent to the topic, rather than referring to them as “a disabled worker” or “a female engineer.” Afterward, put the individual first by referring to them as “an employee who is disabled” or “a woman in the engineering department.”

For example, you wish to highlight something specific for handicapped individuals. Instead of saying, “disabled students should be in general education classrooms,” you can say “students with disabilities should be in a general education classroom to help them achieve their goals.” 

Don’t force individuals to categorise themselves.

Some forms and surveys ask participants to check a box indicating their gender, race, ethnicity, and other characteristics. Allow responders to self-identify instead (or not identify, if they prefer). By doing this, you’ll also discover the terminology they like when speaking about themselves.

Using “hi guys” or “hello ladies and gentlemen” during meetings or other work events implies inequity and hierarchy among gender and sexual identities as it excludes and enforces gender binary, stating that men and women are the only gender in the spectrum.

conduct training, space for learning.

Regular training is essential in a workplace. While learning how to create modern resume templates or what it takes to be a good leader is a must, employee education on how language might be discriminatory in the first place should also be implemented. Because through this, employees will understand how they can inadvertently be contributing to the issue, which will encourage them to use more inclusive language. 

For instance, pow wow is frequently used casually to denote a meeting or a gathering. Using it this way disregards pow wows as a sacred ritual and social gatherings for indigenous people. By hiring a professional to lead Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and conducting unconscious/ subconscious bias training, your organisation can have fruitful, productive discussions about improving its collective language. 

Give choice to staff to share their pronouns.

Employers who want a more accepting workplace for non-binary, transgender, and genderqueer staff must give employees the choice to include their pronouns in their email signatures, during meeting introductions, and other places. When in doubt about someone’s gender, regardless of how they appear, use gender-neutral pronouns.

For instance, when your company is hiring for a managerial position, and you need to create a job posting on LinkedIn. Instead of referring to them as “male” or “female,” use specific pronouns like “they,” “them,” or “they’re.” You can still convey your point while avoiding alienating team members hurt by your presumption that leaders are likely men. You can utilise this strategy until they share their preferred pronouns.

learn from your employees

Ask your staff members what helps them feel included and validated at work if you’re unsure. Pay attention and take notes whenever someone uses a phrase that you find hurtful or exclusive. Ask your employee resource groups for advice when determining what language to use in company communications and for suggestions on how to make your brand messaging more inclusive. Find out how happy and engaged your workers are by conducting frequent surveys and analysing the results. In the end, if the words you use don’t strike a chord with your workers, your efforts to adopt inclusive language will fail.

Final thoughts

An essential component of inclusive language in the workplace is creating a sense of belonging for everyone. It contributes to a welcoming working environment where employees of diverse origins and those of all ages, genders, races, and religions may work effectively and successfully together. After all, organisations are more productive and profitable when their people are happy.

Photo credit: Mikael Blomkvist

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  1. Much of this is helpful. My only comment is that on another page ( https://engageforsuccess.org/culture-and-working-environment/5-ways-inclusivity-can-help-build-a-high-engagement-culture/ ) you state that we should use pronouns on our email signatures. This forces people to 'box' themselves and implies that we treat men and women (or others) differently. A few decades ago, people added their titles (Mr / Mrs/ Miss / Ms etc) to their signatures: these were removed since they reinforced inequality – particularly on gender and marital grounds. Although some trans people like pronouns, others refuse to share them so it is not even a 'trans inclusive' policy. This page has wise advice – pronouns are optional.

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