Words matter. The language we use in the workplace affects everyone. Language is how we express and affirm our identities. Inclusive language in the workplace is a key factor in creating an inclusive company culture. It can make the world of difference in helping all employees feel safe and seen at work.

It’s important for employers in the UK to regularly assess the language your business uses to communicate both internally and externally. As language continues to evolve and become more inclusive, promoting inclusive language that is respectful to everyone is an ongoing commitment. And one that is well worth the effort. There are significant benefits of a diverse workforce, and it all starts by using inclusive language at work.

This guide offers actionable insights into how employers can promote inclusive language in the workplace for a happier, safer working environment. 

What is Inclusive Language?

Inclusive language is using language that is respectful to everyone and makes all employees and clients feel like they belong. 

Inclusive language doesn’t reinforce stereotypes or prejudice based on gender, sexual orientation, disability, or race. Nor does it exclude or single out a particular group of people based on assumptions. Inclusive language doesn’t patronise or cause offence. 

Why is Inclusive Language Important?

Inclusive language matters because all of us, whether we are aware or not, carry some form of unconscious bias. Without even realising, the language that we use can make a colleague feel excluded. This is particularly impactful if you are in a senior position.

By becoming more mindful of the language we’re using at work, we can begin to address unconscious bias in the workplace.

Inclusive Language Examples

Creating an inclusive work environment for everybody takes time and education. To get you started, here are some inclusive language examples to promote respect in the workplace.

Gender-inclusive Language in the Workplace

Gender-inclusive language doesn’t discriminate against any gender identity. It doesn’t subscribe to gender stereotypes and it avoids assumptions about a person’s self-identity. 

Here are some examples of gender-inclusive language in the workplace:

  • Avoiding assumptions of stereotypical gender roles:

Have you noticed that certain job roles often use a masculine pronoun? We often hear the terms fireman, salesman, or policeman even though these job roles can be carried out by any gender. 

Gender-inclusive language replaces masculine words like chairman with the more gender-neutral alternative, chairperson. It also avoids terms such as ‘female CEO’ or ‘male nurse’ that suggest that this is not the “normal” gender of this job role.

  • Saying ‘No’ to patronising language:

Women, in particular, face patronising language in the workplace. Gender-inclusive language avoids using terms like ‘darling’ or ‘dear’ as these can belittle colleagues. 

The same goes for using language for one gender that would not be used for another. An example of this is telling a female colleague to calm down or referring to her as bossy when the same traits in a male colleague may be described as assertive. 

  • Replacing masculine words with gender-neutral alternatives:

Gender-neutral language replaces ​​phrases such as ‘Hey guys’ with ‘Hey everyone’ or ‘Hey team’. This small change can help everyone feel equal and seen at work. 

The same goes with expressions like ‘manpower’ which can be replaced with a more inclusive alternative such as ‘workforce’ or ‘human effort’.

  • Using the correct pronouns:

The language we use should reflect all gender identities. An easy way to do this is to use the correct pronouns. Small changes such as adding pronouns to your email signature, LinkedIn profile, and employee profile encourage all staff members to be mindful of each other’s pronouns. 

Using they/them as a singular pronoun when you are unsure of an employee’s gender identity can help non-binary or transgender staff members to feel comfortable. 

It may feel strange to say they/them as a singular pronoun at the start, but you’ll soon get used to it and it’s perfectly grammatically correct. After all, if it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for us.

Inclusive language for people with disabilities

According to disability equality charity Scope, there are around 14.1 million people in the UK living with a disability

Here are some examples of inclusive language in the workplace:

  • Focusing on the person, not their disability:

When it comes to using inclusive language at work UK, always focus on the person first rather than their medical condition. A person has a disability, it’s not who they are. 

This could involve swapping phrases like ‘a disabled person’ with terms like ‘a person with a disability.’ 

  • Avoiding insinuating that “normal” means without disability:

With such a high number of people living with a disability, inclusive language avoids using the word ‘normal’ or ‘able-bodied’ to describe people who don’t have a disability. 

  • Ensuring the language on signage is inclusive too:

Even the language used to describe the facilities can be made more inclusive by replacing terms such as ‘disabled bathroom’ with ‘bathroom for the disabled’.

  • Never using patronising language:

As we mentioned earlier, patronising language should be avoided in the workplace. For instance, referring to a person with a disability as “courageous” or “inspiring” when they are doing their daily job can be patronising and belittling. 

Inclusive language around race, ethnicity, and nationality

The UK is a diverse place and most workforces are racially and culturally diverse. 

Here are some examples of inclusive language in the workplace:

  • Avoiding using an employee’s race, ethnicity, or nationality to describe them:

Unless it’s relevant, inclusive language doesn’t use race, ethnicity, or nationality to describe people. For example, referring to an employee as “the Asian lawyer” is not necessary. Instead, refer to them by their name. 

  • Using adjectives when referring to someone’s race:

It’s more inclusive to refer to someone’s race as an adjective, rather than a noun. For example, rather than saying “Indians”, it’s more inclusive to say “Indian people”.

  • Steering away from stereotypes:

Even if it’s positive, inclusive language always avoids making generalisations about people based on their race, ethnicity, or nationality.

  • Staying up-to-date with terms:

Language is constantly evolving and there are many terms related to race, ethnicity, and nationality that are no longer acceptable. Training should be provided to employees to make sure that employees aren’t using outdated terms that can be offensive to their colleagues. 

Inclusive language around mental health issues 

The stigma attached to mental health issues is slowly disappearing. With around 1 in 4 people in the UK experiencing mental health issues each year, it’s crucial that employers promote inclusive language around this issue. 

Inclusive language refrains from using terms such as ‘nuts’, ‘crazy’, or OCD’ in casual conversation as this can cause offence and perpetuate the misconception that having mental health issues is a negative personality trait. 

Inclusive Language in Recruitment

Inclusive recruitment focuses on hiring an intersectional workforce with diverse backgrounds, races, gender, values, and experiences. 

Inclusive hiring begins with developing inclusive job ads and connecting with a diverse talent pool. Using inclusive writing in your job ads and descriptions as well as on your careers page will have a huge impact on the talent you attract.

Here are some tips to make your recruitment process more inclusive:

  • Provide training on equality, diversity, & inclusion and unconscious biases in the hiring process
  • Expand your search by posting on different job boards, social media, or further education institutions 
  • Use AI recruitment tools to reduce the risk of unconscious bias in the screening process
  • Involve a diverse group of employees at all stages of the recruitment process

To show their commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion, employers can provide all staff members with a language style guide that promotes inclusivity. Incorporating inclusive language into job ads, onboarding, and company policy will set the tone and help to promote a culture that includes everyone.

If you’re an employer looking for support with your Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion efforts, check out this guide to the best support and resources in the UK. 

To further showcase your commitment to providing equal opportunities, try advertising your roles on our inclusive jobs board.