Language is our most common signifier to a person’s personality and perception of others. Making sure you and your staff use inclusive language is an easy but important step towards an inclusive workplace.
One great thing about the English language is its flexibility in meaning, such that there are a variety of ways you can express yourself without excluding others. In turn, when we advise companies in developing inclusivity in the workplace, we always suggest that looking at yourself and how you interact with others is the best place to start.
Why is inclusive language so important?
When you talk to your employees or colleagues, they will be unconsciously digesting everything you say, particularly if you are in a senior position to them. As such, if you use any language that is exclusionary, you may not only make them feel excluded but demonstrate a notion that your company is not wholly inclusive.
Furthermore, we encourage employers to see the aim of inclusive language as being beneficial to everyone.
Even in general chit-chat we can highlight our unconscious biases through our use of language. The most common example of this is where you might use gendered pronouns when discussing another person, despite not knowing their gender identity.
This has several layers of exclusivity to it. The one that is less readily recognised is that, even if you know someone’s name, you don’t necessarily know how they present or identify.
Furthermore, if all you knew was their role at another organisation and you used a particular pronoun, you are suggesting that someone working in that role or seniority level is more likely to be the gender you used. Unconsciously, you have not only demonstrated that you are not inclusive but that you have a certain bias towards or against a particular gender with employment and promotion opportunities. If you are in a management position, that could be incredibly disheartening for your employees.
This would all be avoided by saying ‘they’ instead of ‘he/she’. By saying ‘they’ you are being inclusive to everyone, without needing to jump to any conclusions.
In the workplace
In order to become more diverse and inclusive, you have to recognise that the company culture you have now is of a culturally narrow mindset. For example, if you and your colleagues use sporting terminology when discussing a project, you are unlikely to encourage those who don’t like sport to get involved.
As such, in both your writing, discussions and presentations you should consider what metaphors, acronyms and expressions you use and whether everyone would be able to understand the meaning. Furthermore, don’t just consider those in the room; if you consistently use particular terminology, you are consistently discouraging others to join the conversation.
As aforementioned, the most common way to tackle exclusive language is to look at your approach to discussing gender. However, there is also the notion of language in your branding and company image. If all of your staff photos are of people from the same social group, you aren’t showing yourself as an inclusive company.
Considering your terminology whilst placing job adverts is critical to developing a diverse company.
First, you need to consider your company brand. As discussed, if your terminology and imagery are exclusive, you will only put off certain candidates.
Furthermore, you should think about the criteria you are setting in the job description. For example, if someone has to go to Oxford or Cambridge to get a job with you, they are unlikely to be from a diverse background.