Inclusive language is a buzzword that’s being used in the corporate spaces more often but what does it actually mean? In short, inclusive language consists of language choices that promote a feeling of inclusivity between all communities and respects differences between those communities.
Why is it being used in corporate spaces more often? Well, more companies are realizing the benefits for using inclusive language in both employee engagement and financial savings. By using inclusive language, companies can foster a greater sense of belonging with their employees and with greater employee engagement, businesses yield a wide range of positive returns. In fact, a survey conducted by BetterUp, showed that potential productivity gains from a 10,000 person organization where everyone is highly engaged could come close to $52 million dollars a year. There were also reductions in sick days and turnover from this study. Beyond the financial benefits, inclusive language also evolves diversity, inclusion, and equity in your business, which creates a cascade of benefits for your company, your employees, and your communities.
There are plenty of benefits to be gained in embedding inclusive language in your business and culture but getting there can be a challenge. How can your company start adopting inclusive language quickly and efficiently? We’ve got five small changes your teams can make in order to use more inclusive language.
Embedding Inclusive Language: Step 1
The first quick change that your team can make is for folks to introduce themselves with their pronouns. There are feminine pronouns “she/her/hers”, masculine pronouns “he/him/his” and gender neutral pronouns “they/them/theirs” or “ze/zim/zirs”. You introduce yourself with your pronouns by saying “Hi my name is PK and my pronouns are he/him/his”. When cisgender folks introduce themselves with their pronouns, it gives the space for people who are not always comfortable with it to express their true pronouns. Introducing yourself with your pronouns is a big indicator that you and the space you are creating is safe for trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming folks to express their pronouns.
Another way to show this allyship is to put your pronouns in your email signature – this way anyone that interacts with you or your team via email knows that it’s a safe space for people to express their authentic selves. If you are in a leadership position, you have a unique opportunity to begin to normalize this by giving more weight to an introduction with pronouns when you use it for meetings of any size or seminars and your employees will begin to follow. You want to also make it clear that people are free to not express their pronouns if they do not wish to further promote feelings of safety.
Embedding Inclusive Language: Step 2
The second quick change is to only use character descriptors when only necessary when describing people. This goes for almost all identities or characteristics (gender identity, ability, age) but is especially important when talking about race. By using unnecessary racial descriptors, you add the unspoken phrase or a meaning showing that you are surprised because the person of the race you’re speaking of is not known for their ability in whatever context you are discussing.
For example, if someone said “This is my coworker, Prakash. He’s Indian and so well-spoken.” The racial descriptor was unnecessary in this context and with the next descriptor phrase, implies that most Indian coworkers are not well-spoken which is why the racial descriptor was needed.
Embedding Inclusive Language: Step 3
The third quick change is to use people first language. People first language uses sentence structures and grammar that centers the ideas being communicated around the person with a holistic view as opposed to viewing them as a sum of their identities or parts. People first language is especially important when talking about people with disabilities, but the concept can be applied to many other identities like sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, etc.
When someone says “that person with a disability” as opposed to “that disabled person”, it automatically creates the idea that the disability is a secondary or less important characteristic as opposed to being someone’s defining characteristic or feature. Another way to accomplish this goal is to simply not mention the disability unless its relevant to the conversation (Quick Change #2 above).
Embedding Inclusive Language: Step 4
The fourth quick change is to learn more and be aware of the connotations of your language choices and thus, be able to avoid words with a negative connotation. Some prime examples of phrases that are thought of as inclusive but actually not are “sexual preference” or “preferred pronouns.” Using the term “preferred” or “preference” implies that these are choices that people are making which takes away from the fact that someone’s sexual orientation or pronouns are simply their identity and not a choice. Instead you should simply say “sexual orientation” and “pronouns” instead. Another example of negative connotations of language choices is “illegal aliens”. Both “illegal” and “aliens” dehumanize the individual which adds further unnecessary stigma to the conversation. Instead, use the term “undocumented immigrant”
Embedding Inclusive Language: Step 5
The fifth quick change is a shift in mindset – always be willing to listen to feedback as well as hold others accountable to more inclusive language. Language is always evolving and because of this, what is considered inclusive vs. exclusive language is also always evolving. Making a mistake is bound to happen but that’s okay! All you do if you catch yourself using exclusive language is to apologize and restate your sentence with the inclusive language instead. Being vulnerable enough to get feedback and brave enough to give feedback is critical for teams to be held accountable so that they can make quick and impactful strides in inclusive language.
If you’re looking for a deeper education on inclusive language to optimize the feeling of belonging in your company and amongst your teams, reach out to us to learn more about Clarkston’s Inclusive Language Training.