Building a culture of belonging in the workplace is important if you want to attract and retain top talent. The words we use can play a big role in ensuring people feel included. It can sometimes be hard to ‘get it right’, though, especially if you’re not sure what inclusive language examples look like.
In the last few years, there’s been a big push toward using more inclusive language in the workplace. This isn’t an easy change to manage, but it can lead to huge rewards.
For instance, consider that millennials are one of the most racially and ethnically diverse generations in US history. By 2025, members of this group will make up 75% of the global workforce.
And 83% of millennials are actively engaged at work when they feel their employer creates an inclusive culture.
Given the consequences of a disengaged workforce, language usage could be your first step towards creating a more diverse, welcoming, and inclusive business.
Getting employees’ feedback on language usage is a good way to discover what potential words and phrases could be problematic.
Once you’ve done that, here are some tips along with inclusive language examples that will help drive belonging in your workplace:
Communicate in plain language
It doesn’t matter who your target audience is. Plain language, and avoiding jargon or acronyms, will always make what you say and write more inclusive.
It also makes things easier for people to understand. So then they come to you with fewer questions, allowing everyone to spend more time on higher-value tasks.
Using plain language in your marketing could even increase your website conversions because it’s easier for people to grasp.
Use gender-neutral terms
“They” has been around as a gender-neutral term for hundreds of years. Yet it’s one of the inclusive language examples that continues to face resistance.
When you use “he” in cases where you don’t actually know the person’s gender, it can make the reader uncomfortable and put them off your business.
I read a lot of nonfiction, and it pains me every time I see a book use “he” to mean a single person whose gender we don’t know.
Sometimes those books split it between “he” and “she,” or even just use “she,” but what about non-binary folks? What if you don’t get the balance right?
It’s easier, and more inclusive, to use “they.”
Using words like “guys” to mean a group of people is another subtle way to gender the conversation.
It subconsciously implies that the default gender is male, again further isolating your audience. There are lots of different alternatives to this, including “folks,” “gang,” or “people.”
Using gendered terms like “waitress” instead of “server” makes assumptions about someone’s gender, which is isolating and unfair.
Language reflects culture. Changing the words and phrases we use changes cultural perceptions and attitudes.
It starts with people being aware of the connotations of what they say, and consciously changing the words they use. Incorporating some of the inclusive language examples above is a great first step.
Ask people their pronouns
It never hurts to ask someone what their pronouns are.
Sure, we can make assumptions, but that can lead to awkward atmospheres that make people uncomfortable. This is true for both the person who assumed incorrectly, and the person on the receiving end.
In the latter case, they’re going to feel less like they belong and can be themselves in the workplace. This can negatively impact their mental health and make them more likely to leave.
With belonging in the workplace being so important, asking someone their pronouns is a simple way to show people that you do want them to feel like they belong, whether they’re working with you for five minutes or fifty years.
Consider the connotations or origins of a word, phrase, object, or action
There are some words and phrases that were once considered innocuous but are now problematic.
This is partly because the world is more diverse. However, it’s also because more people are aware of the origins of these things and why we should avoid them.
Recently, there was controversy in the UK when a pub had dolls with racial connotations on display. While displaying them isn’t technically illegal, making people uncomfortable through your words or actions in this way is.
Even though the offensive dolls were confiscated, the pub owners continue to defend their actions. They even acquired more dolls to display.
As a consequence, the pub received a lot of negative press. One of the UK’s most respected pub guides even removed them from their listings.
We should always be questioning and challenging previously held attitudes and beliefs. There are always ways to improve processes and make more people feel welcome.
Failing to question these attitudes and beliefs can lead to negative press that can impact your business in the short- and long-term. Incorporating more inclusive language examples is important, but eliminating exclusive words, phrases, and of course actions, is just as essential.
Be mindful of the language around disabilities
Saying that you’re blind because you didn’t see something can be offensive to people who are visually impaired.
There are some people who wouldn’t find this offensive, like my nan, who was visually impaired. When it comes to inclusive language though, it’s much better to err on the side of caution and inclusivity rather than divisiveness and upset.
Likewise, there are some people who dislike the word disability and prefer to use “differently abled.” If you’re unsure which to choose, ask your employees who face long-term health challenges which term they prefer.
Adopting the social disability model can help, too. This states that it isn’t people themselves who are disabled, it’s society that disables them. This puts the onus on society, and businesses, to accommodate those disabilities, rather than forcing those with disabilities to change themselves.
You don’t have to get all of this right 100% of the time. You just have to be open to feedback and learning, and do your best to utilize these inclusive language examples when the occasion calls for it.
When you’re open to feedback and learning, you’re more likely to not repeat the same mistakes. You’ll also create the inclusive culture that you want your business to have—and that you and your business can benefit from.
If you’re looking to build a more inclusive organization, Workrowd can help. Our all-in-one tool suite makes it easy for your people to find their people from day one.
Plus, it’s a breeze to share resources like a list of inclusive language examples so that the whole team sees it rather than just getting lost in people’s inboxes. If you want to create a more inclusive culture with less work, visit us online or send us a note at email@example.com. We’d love to connect.