Tips for using inclusive language in the workplace


Inclusion leaders are afraid of getting it wrong

“Leaders are so terrified about messing up and saying the wrong thing to all their stakeholders…that they’re paralysed into inaction.”

Here are our top tips for discussing diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

1. What is inclusive language?

  • Do: Let employees know it’s OK to challenge non-inclusive language.
  • Don’t: Be afraid to get it wrong or let your emotions prevent you from starting the conversation. You may discover unconscious biases – be willing to address them. VERCIDA, for example, offers an Introduction to Unconscious Bias.

2. Appreciate that inclusive language matters

So, it’s essential to an individual’s sense of well-being. But it is also vital to business success. Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends research found that 79% of organisations agree that fostering a sense of belonging in the workforce is vital to overall business success.

  • Do: Embrace inclusive language. Talking about disability, gender, sexuality, race and more reduces your fear of “getting it wrong” and encourages an open, inclusive culture.
  • Don’t: Be afraid to admit it when you get things wrong. Learn and move on.

3. Do your research

Engage with diverse communities and include them in the process. They are the experts in the language they prefer – and what they find offensive.

Be aware that there will be diversity between communities. So, you should be specific and avoid having a one-size-fits-all policy around inclusivity and inclusive language.

  • Do: Co-create your diversity and inclusion policies, including using inclusive language with people of all levels within your organisation.
  • Don’t: forget to review policies. Language is fluid, and people’s preferences may change as time evolves.

4. Mental Health: Mind your language

You may find you’re consciously choosing your words carefully, but inappropriate language can slip into everyday dialogue.

Do: Recognise the impact of mental health language and avoid using actual words that infer a diagnosis such as Bipolar.

Don’t: Use derogatory terms that stem from the context of mental health, such as ‘psycho’.

Mental health is often an invisible illness, and there’s a stigma attached to it.

5. Knowledge sharing and allyship

Diversity and inclusion are everyone’s responsibility, including the language of work. You may wish to create guidelines or training around inclusive language.

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