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 welcome. Usually, language makes many 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.
Inclusivity aims to ensure that all persons are treated equally and with dignity. Thus, bringing everyone together without any exclusions. Inclusive language seeks to change our deeply embedded habits and consider the implications of words and phrases that have long gone unchallenged.
The change of language might seem unnecessary at first. Even if you take the necessary steps, sometimes, you can end up offending people. Including inclusive language in your vernacular language is a long journey. So much you can gain 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 to increase workplace inclusion.
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 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.” you should strive to include language that feels inclusive of a diverse group of people.
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,” or “confined to a wheelchair.” While you’re at it, steer clear of euphemisms like “challenged,” “differently-abled,” or “specially-abled,” too.
Do not use a 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 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, suppose you are a multinational company with chains across the globe. In that case, 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 wish 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 to reach out to the maximum number of people; otherwise, the message you are sending is that you don’t need a diverse group of people. 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.
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