Using Inclusive Language At Work

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Language shapes our business realities, influences our corporate culture, and reflects our organizational values.

Inclusive language in business seeks to avoid expressions that exclude or marginalize, intentionally or unintentionally, particular groups of stakeholders.

What exactly is ‘inclusiveness’ at work?

Inclusiveness at work involves creating policies, practices, and environments that foster a sense of belonging for all individuals, irrespective of their differences.

It encourages open-mindedness, tolerance, and the breaking down of barriers that may prevent certain groups from fully participating in various activities or accessing opportunities.

Using Inclusive Language

Embracing inclusive language requires a strategic effort to acknowledge diversity, convey respect to all collaborators, and promote equitable opportunities in the workplace.

Inclusive business language is mindful communication that respects all professional backgrounds, cultures, and identities within the corporate ecosystem. It involves choosing words free from biases, stereotypes, or discriminatory undertones in a corporate setting.

This form of language recognizes words’ impact and strives to be sensitive to the experiences of employees, clients, and partners.

Examples of Inclusive Language in Business

Let’s consider some inclusive language examples so you can use them in your business.

1. Gender Neutrality in Roles and Titles

  • Use “they” or “them” when referring to an unknown individual or when gender is irrelevant in business documents
  • Replace “chairman” with “chairperson” or simply “chair” in formal meetings or organizational charts
  • Use “workforce” or “human resources” instead of “manpower” in strategic planning

2. Inclusivity in the Workplace

  • Refer to “person with a disability” rather than “disabled person” in HR policies
  • Designate “accessible parking” instead of “handicapped parking” in company facilities

3. Age Inclusivity in Hiring Practices

  • Avoid terms like “old” or “elderly,” and use “older person” or “senior professional” in recruitment materials

4. Cultural Sensitivity in Global Operations

Exercise caution with idioms or phrases that may carry cultural sensitivities or negative connotations in international communications.

  • “Break a leg”: This phrase is commonly used in English to wish someone good luck before a performance. However, in some cultures, it may be considered inappropriate or even offensive
  • “Kill two birds with one stone”: This idiom, meaning to accomplish two tasks with a single effort, might be offensive to those who are sensitive to animal rights or find the metaphor violent

5. Acknowledgment of Sexual Orientation in Policies

  • Use “partner” or “spouse” instead of assuming “husband” or “wife” in employee benefits documentation

6. Socioeconomic Inclusivity in Corporate Responsibility

  • Use terms like “low-income” instead of “poor” when discussing socioeconomic initiatives or community engagement programs

Challenges of Implementing Inclusive Language

In the corporate world, adopting inclusive language is crucial for creating a culture of belonging and respect. However, the path to integrating such language into business communications is not without its challenges.

Lack of awareness

Many professionals have grown accustomed to traditional business jargon that may not be inclusive. These entrenched speech patterns are often complex to identify and change, as they are deeply rooted in the corporate lexicon.

The challenge is further amplified by a general lack of awareness regarding the impact of specific terminology, which can inadvertently exclude or offend.

Resistance to change

Resistance to updating language is another obstacle businesses face. Changing established communication protocols requires deliberate effort.

Some employees and stakeholders may be reluctant, viewing change as an unnecessary complication or just an exercise in political correctness.

Starting from the top down, leaders must emphasize the broader benefits of inclusiveness, i.e., brand reputation and company culture, so workers will be open to creating new habits.

However, as language continually evolves, what is considered inclusive may shift as societal attitudes and understandings progress.

Businesses must, therefore, be agile, stay informed, and be willing to update policies and practices to reflect these changes.

Despite these hurdles, a steadfast commitment to inclusive language is vital for fostering a more equitable, respectful, and ultimately productive business environment. It’s a strategic investment that can enhance employee morale, reflect positively on the company’s brand, and contribute to a more cohesive corporate community.

Strategies for Using Inclusive Language

Incorporating inclusive language within business operations is a strategic initiative that demands purposeful and mindful action.

Fundamental to this endeavor is the education and awareness of all organization members.

Training and resources

Through targeted training sessions, workshops, and educational resources, employees at every level can gain the insight necessary to make informed decisions regarding their use of language in the professional environment.

Active listening and learning are also pivotal in this journey. Businesses must honor and adhere to the expressed preferences of their employees, clients, and partners concerning their identities. Recognizing individual and group identities is critical to valuing every person’s unique contribution to the organization.

Practice

The transition to an inclusive language protocol is gradual and requires consistent practice and patience. It is a skill that must be cultivated through regular application in all forms of corporate communication. As this process unfolds, missteps may occur; however, these should be seen as valuable learning moments rather than failures.

Feedback

Openness to constructive feedback is another cornerstone of this transformative process. Encouraging an environment where feedback is freely exchanged, intending to promote inclusivity, is essential for both individual and organizational growth.

Finally, leadership by example is an influential method for reinforcing this cultural shift.

When leaders and team members consistently employ inclusive language, they set a positive precedent to motivate others within the organization to examine and enhance their communication styles.

This collective effort can progressively reshape the company’s culture, leading to a business environment characterized by diversity, respect, and inclusion for all.

Final Thoughts

Inclusive language goes beyond just communication; it represents a strategic effort to empathize and understand.

Building a brand reputation and changing company culture shows our ongoing dedication to creating an environment where everyone feels acknowledged and valued, including employees, clients, and stakeholders.

Choosing our words thoughtfully shows respect for diversity, challenges stereotypes, addresses discrimination and embraces inclusivity and the full range of human diversity within the corporate setting.

Why not use our tips and create new habits today to improve inclusiveness in your organization?