Updated: Aug 19
Today’s generation is challenging the status quo and making sure that social issues such as race and gender are included in every key discussion. While this has allowed many to feel empowered to speak their truth and demand equal rights, it has also created a divisive landscape in some workplaces. Maybe you have experienced it personally or heard about some uncomfortable situations.
Workplace environments are seeing a change, as traditional offices today feel more pressured to satisfy their most valuable assets — their employees. In fact, a recent SurveyMonkey Workforce Survey highlights how almost 80% of workers want to work for a company that values diversity and inclusion, leading business leaders to prioritize these affairs in the workplace. Without a doubt, making the effort to create an office where everyone feels heard, valued, and included will pay off in the long run. One way to promote inclusivity in the workplace is by encouraging everyone to use more inclusive language. Words hold a lot of power, and how we use them can have a significant effect on others, no matter how small it may initially seem. The nuances of words and phrases can sometimes be difficult for non-native English speakers to distinguish. For this reason, let’s discuss what inclusive language is and how you can promote it in your workplace.
Defining Inclusive Language
Simply put, inclusive language is communication that actively uses words, phrases, and expressions that are meant to make everyone feel welcome. Whenever possible, inclusive language avoids assumptions that may exclude an individual or a group of people. In the office, inclusive language covers marketing materials, brand messaging, social media posts, website content, emails, and even other forms of communication such as images and videos. Aside from being aware of what inclusive language is and where you may apply it, it’s also important to know the specific words and phrases that may make someone feel excluded in the office. Some key areas where you need to be careful are age, class, disabilities, race and ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, religion, and physical traits.
A good place to start when it comes to inclusive language is avoiding known slurs and derogatory terms. However, this won’t be enough in the long run, and you’ll also have to do your due diligence to get rid of common words that may cause offense, as well as look for more respectful and acceptable alternatives.
Examples in The Workplace
However, if you are unclear about what might be offensive, more employees are making it easier for colleagues to know the best terms to use. As it relates to gender, for example, on email signatures, more people are choosing to include a line that indicates the pronouns that best suit them. You might see an employee indicate they/them/theirs if they do not want to be defined by traditional gender roles, such as he or she. As another example, you might see terms such as LatinX, instead of Latino or Latina. Adding the X provides a gender-neutral alternative for those with Latin-American heritage.
Additionally, race is an immensely important topic right now in America, and knowing when to use terms such as black versus African-American requires thought and consideration. According to the Department of Diversity Initiatives at the University South Carolina Aiken, as a rule it is best to ask the individual what terms he/she/they prefer. For example, the article states that some people do not always identify with the term African-America if their heritage is of another country entirely.
These are only a handful of examples that you might encounter in your work place. As you can see, respect for diversity starts with being open to new ways of using language so that everyone feels included.
How to Promote Inclusive Language in the Workplace
Making sure that you fully understand what inclusive language goes a long way in creating a sense of belonging for everyone at work. In this regard, be sure to do your research and take a deep dive into various resources and organizations that may widen your knowledge. Such resources include:
Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Collection of Key Race Equity and Inclusion Resources
GLAAD Media’s Reference Guide
The various insightful articles you can find on UnderstandingPrejucide.org
UNESCO’s Guidelines on Gender-Neutral Language
If you are a business owner or leader, it’s also best to employ the services of human resource professionals who fully understand the importance of making everyone feel welcome through all forms of communication. Sometimes we have never been told that a word can be offensive to some, and this can be true for both native and non-native speakers of English. That's why employee training by a qualified and experienced professional can help increase worker confidence around these sensitive issues and contribute to a more positive work environment for everyone. Our world, views, and language, change constantly. And as business leaders, we must learn to follow suit and make the world a more accepting place for everyone — especially to those who work under our wing. For more posts and insights on how to expertly communicate in today’s world, consider reading more on improving your business language skills.