Language is one of our most powerful tools. It can unite, inspire and even divide us. The way we talk and write holds weight, and as languages and culture develop, so must we. Inclusivity builds relationships, sparks creation and strengthens the bond among our teams.
What do we mean by inclusive language?
Inclusive language is the understanding that words matter, and that choice of language can be used to either intentionally or unintentionally exclude and target others.
Inclusive language allows us to communicate with people in a respectful way and influence the culture of an organisation. Being inclusive requires us to be truly welcoming, positive and accepting towards each other.
In an increasingly diverse and globalised world, this is more important than ever in order to connect and include our colleagues of different races, genders, sexual orientations, cultures, socio-economic backgrounds and abilities. Inclusive language enhances the mental and social well-being of our colleagues and ensures that all potential clients, partners, and new hires feel comfortable, seen, and respected.
How can I use inclusive language in the workplace?
A diverse workplace benefits from a wealth of knowledge from people of different backgrounds, genders, ethnicities, nationalities and abilities. It helps us widen perspectives both within the work we create and internally, catering to a truly representative audience.
Celebrating and respecting this spectrum of identities is essential to the success of a diverse workplace – communication must respect and support diverse colleague identities. So just how can we introduce the idea of adapting out-dated language at work?
Here are some tips for practising inclusivity at work:
- Use the name a person asks you to use
- Practise reflective listening and acknowledge people’s subjective experience
- If you are unsure, ask a person of their pronouns, or include yours in your signature
- Challenge unconscious bias in language
- Be responsible for the intention behind your language
- Put people first, do not label with an ability e.g. instead of ‘blind men’ use ‘men who are blind’
- Avoid unnecessary gendering of words e.g. ‘female engineer’ is just ‘an engineer’ or ‘man flu’ is just ‘flu’ – gendering illnesses or signs of weakness not only stigmatises men but also assumes that the default for weakness is femininity
- ‘Guys’ is not a gender-neutral term. The ‘universal male’ assumes that the normal, default human being is a male. Although ‘he’ and ‘man’ are said to be neutral, numerous studies have found that these words cause people to specifically think of males
How inclusive language creates a sense of belonging in the workplace
Inclusive language creates a safe space, making people feel valued
- It shows customers, clients, service users and members that you practise what you preach, bringing paper-based statements to life, resulting in increased trust between you and your stakeholders
- Using inclusive language confronts both conscious and unconscious biases. Language is immensely powerful, therefore, adjusting words and phrases shifts mindsets too
- Moving with the times. As our societies continue to diversify, so too does our language. Being aware and open to shifting language means that the whole organisation can evolve in an agile way
- Seeing everyone as they want to be seen. By recognising people’s gender identity and upholding the importance of respect for people’s preferred pronouns, you set an example by creating an open environment in which the stigma is significantly reduced.
Language has always and will always be the most important tool for communicating. Making the change to a more inclusive approach in our language not only takes much reflection but also patience and understanding. Accept that we are human and that it is okay to make mistakes. If you do make a mistake, apologise, correct what you have said, learn from it and move on.
It goes beyond the corporate and legal approach, it is about human connection, compassion and common ground. Through listening, learning and interacting with our colleagues we can broaden our horizons and make sure we work together and discuss what works best for everyone.
Discover how you can adopt inclusive language: https://textio.com/