Inclusive Language In The Workplace
Though my religion is part of my identity, and I am proud to be Jewish – unfortunately, I never notice my identity more than when it’s being used against me – whether with discomfort, ridicule or antisemitism. I’ve been quite fortunate at Embryo – when asked what I’m up to at the weekend, or during annual leave, and I mention religious family gatherings or festivals, I’m met with questions and general interest (and even the odd Chanukah card) – which is always appreciated. However, this hasn’t always been my experience. At a previous company I worked at – some staff members would go awkward on me whenever my religion was brought up (not by me may I add) and on one occasion, I was told that Jews should forgive the Nazis for their crimes during the Holocaust (yeah – I didn’t stay long after that situation). And though I don’t think companies can be wholly responsible for the inherent or potentially unknown ignorance of every single staff member, I do feel that companies should have practices in place that protect every single staff member. So with that in mind, I thought it’d be a good idea to write a short blog on the importance of inclusive language in the workplace, how this creates a sense of belonging, and examples of terms to avoid. This is really just about common decency, being accepting of those who you may consider to be different, and knowing that words do impact others, and no-one should have to deal with that.
What Is Inclusive Language & Why Is It Important?
As stated in Hubspot, ‘’Inclusive language avoids biases, slang, or expressions that discriminate against groups of people based on race, gender, or socioeconomic status.’’ Any individual or group can be excluded within language, but typically, this term has been used for underrepresented or underprivileged groups, including those from certain racial groups, ethnic minorities, and members of the LGBTQA+ community. Inclusive language is used to avoid offending, demeaning or discriminating against people based on stereotypes, personal perceptions or ignorance. Speaking with inclusive language is all about showing respect, and being aware of, and open to, the different perspectives, identities, and insight that everyone can bring to the table. By doing so, everyone can work within a safe and open environment, where they know they won’t be judged, or treated differently for being who they are, or characteristics they can’t possibly control. What’s more, using inclusive language suggests that you would like to be treated with respect too, and establishes a mutual understanding – or, in other words, treating others how you would want to be treated yourself.
So why else is inclusive language important? Well, the stats speak for themselves; A 2018, ‘Deloitte Millennial Survey’ showed that there was a, ‘’very strong correlation between perceptions of workforce diversity and loyalty’’. Key findings included: Candidates will typically turn down opportunities due to impressions formed via language used in interviews; 69% of employees working at companies they perceive as diverse intend to stay 3-5 years, thereby reducing recruitment costs. Various other studies show how the policies and practices businesses put in place, and the behaviour they tolerate, impacts the happiness and well-being of staff, and the reputations of the businesses. Therefore, how much care is given to staff, and how incidents are dealt with, highlight how happy employees are, and it all begins with language used.
Inclusive Language & Exclusive Language – Knowing The Difference
Beyond knowing what inclusive language is, and why it’s important, it’s also important to understand which terms, words and phrases are inclusive, and which aren’t. It’s not just about avoiding nasty terms or racial slurs, it’s also being open to the fact that there are common words that you may not even realise are disrespectful, and seeking to use more respectful language going forward. The aim is to make everyone you work with feel safe, valued and appreciated.
Let’s take a look at some examples of inclusive and exclusive language:
- An effective and vibrant team (as opposed to ‘a young and vibrant team’).
- An experienced team (as opposed to ‘an older team’ or ‘a more mature team’).
Gender & Sexuality:
- Always be respectful of everyone’s pronouns – for example: he/she/they.
- Use terms such as, ‘humankind’, ‘workforce’ or ‘team’ rather than ‘manpower’.
- Try to avoid defining an individual or group according to their disabilities or medical conditions. Opt for terms that are more respectful, such as: ‘disabled person’; ‘person living with cancer’; ‘person with diabetes’.
- Terms to avoid include: ‘handicapped’; ‘suffering from cancer’; ‘victim of dementia’.
Race & Religion:
- Although some religions have their origins in certain parts of the world, it’s incorrect to assume that every member of a religion was born there, or that they observe the same religion, or any religion at all.
- Groups of individuals from the same religion should be referred to as a community, such as members of the Muslim community.
- Always avoid and challenge racial and ethnic slurs and any language that promotes stereotypes that are damaging and disrespectful.
In the workplace, there really isn’t an acceptable situation to class someone based on their age, gender, sexuality, disability, race or religion in a derogatory manner. Even if others are being disrespectful, you have a conscious choice to do the right thing, report any unacceptable behaviour, and be a good colleague to everyone. In general, try not to define people by their differences, instead appreciating the beauty that comes from them. We can all bring something unique to the table, and try to ensure that that is positive.
For more information on the terms to use, or avoid, in the workplace, please see the following links:
- Ageism at work – Age UK
- Inclusive language: words to use and avoid when writing about disability – GOV.UK
- A Guide to Using Pronouns and Other Gender-Inclusive Language in the Office – The Muse
- How to talk about race at work – CIPD
It’s everyone’s duty at work to ensure that everyone else feels safe and secure in their working environment, and that every care is taken to look out for, and protect, the people who keep your business running. It’s good to know that Embryo tries to be as inclusive as possible, though like every other company, there’s always more we can do. If you’re concerned about your inclusivity – simply speak to your team members, asking for their honest opinions on what can be done to improve this, and put policies in place that set this in stone. It’ll show care, consideration and protection of all staff, and will boost workplace morale no end.
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