Inclusive language refers to a language that acknowledges diversity and avoids the use of expressions or words that may be considered exclusive to certain groups of people.
What is inclusive language?
Inclusive language stems from the idea of avoiding terminology that might reinforce biases and stereotypes. The concept applies to both written and spoken language.
Using inclusive language is often compared to political correctness, although there are some key differences between the terms. Political correctness refers to the way verbal and written communication is used to avoid offending any particular group or ethnicity by saying the wrong thing.
Inclusive language, on the other hand, seeks to actively acknowledge and celebrate the vast diversity in people’s identities.
Inclusive language and pronouns
Pronoun use is an important part of inclusive language. Common gender pronouns are “he,” “she,” and “they.” Less common LGBTQ+ pronouns are “ze” or “hir.” Using proper pronouns in the workplace is important since it is a powerful way of acknowledging an individual’s gender identity.
Instead of assuming someone’s preferred pronouns, employees should be encouraged to ask the person first. By sharing pronouns, employers and employees create a work climate in which all individuals are comfortable expressing their own gender identity.
The use of gender-neutral language also helps avoid assumptions and the reinforcement of stereotypes. This includes choosing words or phrases that do not specify a person’s gender, such as partner/spouse instead of wife/husband.
Why inclusive language is important
A central principle of inclusive language is that words have a powerful impact on people. Its purpose is to create an environment in which everyone feels welcome and empowered to speak their mind without fear of being discriminated against.
In the context of the workplace, inclusive language helps foster a sense of belonging, as it acknowledges diverse gender identities, ethnicities, cultures, and abilities.
Using this approach is instrumental in fostering a positive, more innovative and productive work culture. People who feel a sense of belonging are also more likely to produce quality work, which has a direct impact on company revenue.
Examples of inclusive language
Inclusive language sets out specific etiquette standards regarding proper communication and interaction in the workplace. Here are some examples:
- Using gender-neutral, person-first or identity-first nouns based on the individual’s own preferences.
- Using language that is appropriate for the individual or community involved in the discussion.
- Avoiding words and phrases that may be condescending or stereotypical.
- Discouraging language that is alienating or offensive, such as sexist, racist, ableist or homophobic language.
- Avoiding character stereotypes, such as computer programmers are socially awkward and introverted, or millennials are notorious job-hoppers.
Psychological safety and inclusive language
The term psychological safety is closely linked to the concept of inclusive language. Simply put, it is the creation of safe spaces for inclusive conversations. In the context of the workplace, a safe space refers to an environment where employees can express themselves without fear of being ridiculed or thought less of.
Within an inclusive work culture, workers feel comfortable sharing ideas, asking questions, voicing concerns and admitting mistakes. It is a key component of an inclusive workplace where people can be open-minded and creative.
Psychological safety also creates a dynamic space for innovation, and leads to more effective problem-solving. When employees feel psychologically safe, they are more willing to take risks and challenge the status quo without fear of judgment or retribution.
Benefits of inclusive language in the workplace
The benefits of using inclusive language in the workplace are multiple and far-reaching. It creates a dynamic space where people feel valued and free to talk about their issues, such as disability or mental illness. It also diminishes significantly the stigma associated with certain identities, for example people from the LGBTQ+ community.
Studies show that inclusive language encourages people to perform better and be more creative. A sense of belonging raises overall staff performance, which also has an impact on the company’s bottom line. As a result, companies can greatly benefit from a more dynamic and resilient workforce, achieving greater success in an increasingly diverse and competitive business landscape.
The use of inclusive language in the workplace actively fuels a culture of empathy and understanding. When employees feel that their identities and experiences are acknowledged, it tends to encourage an open and honest communication. Using inclusive language also contributes to a positive brand image. Companies that prioritize inclusivity are viewed as socially responsible and progressive.
How to incorporate inclusive language in the workplace
An inclusive work culture uses language that is respectful to others and avoids words, phrases and expressions that might be considered biased, racist or sexist.
Here are some tips on how to promote inclusive language in the workplace:
- Be mindful of gender-neutral language and avoid common gendered terms such as “cleaning ladies” or “guys.”
- Encourage sharing gender pronouns through email signatures and Slack profiles. Much of our day-to-day language reflects an implicit bias toward two default genders (male and female) and one sexual orientation (heterosexual). This excludes employees who may identify as non-binary or LGBTQ+.
- Educate employees on the importance of inclusive language and its role in creating a welcoming and respectful working environment.
- Provide resources and training on appropriate terminology when referring to individuals with disabilities, ensuring that the language used is free from ableism. When referring to disability specifically, do not use phrases with negative connotations, such as ‘suffers from’ or ‘afflicted by’.
- Create spaces where employees can share their insights regarding language usage. Make necessary adjustments to guidelines based on the feedback received.