How to Use Inclusive Language in the Workplace

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The Importance of Inclusive Language in the Workplace

The pen is mightier than the sword, so goes the saying. This phrase illustrates the power that words have, and to modify the expression, the inclusive pen is mightier than the discriminatory sword. And as a team leader, it’s up to you to wield that pen. 

In other words, inclusive language is the engine that powers an inclusive environment and starts with leadership. Inclusive language comes from a set of rules that work to break the systemic discrimination that our language contains. 

Find out how everyday phrases have a negative connotation and the inclusive terms to use instead. Anyone can become an expert diversity coach, and Coach Diversity Institute provides accredited programs to pave the way. Over the course of 60 hours, you’ll learn how to strip unconscious bias and how to transition others to do the same. You can find a more inclusive way for any scenario, and it starts at Coach Diversity Institute. 

Examples of Inclusive Language for Categories of Individual Identities

In 2018, the BBC reported that there are 171,146 words in the English language. Unfortunately, not all of these words make for inclusive language. Many day-to-day words, phrases, idioms, and slang terms have come about due to racist, sexist, or oppressive actions and behaviors. Here’s a look at some examples of non-inclusive language and their inclusive counterparts.  

1. Gender identity, sex, and sexuality

Gender identity and sexual orientation have long come under attack. Members of the LGBTQ community champion gender-neutral terms through the use of gender-neutral pronouns and gender-neutral language. For example,

  • Say this: “Ok, everyone, heads-up!” 
  • Not this: “Ok, you guys, heads-up!”

The latter is an example of gender-inclusive language; by replacing “guys” with “everyone,” you include more people. 

  • Say this: “We have people of all sexual orientations on the team.” 
  • Not this: “We have people of all sexual preferences on the team.”

Implying there’s a preference or choice is a heterosexual bias.

Of course, you’ll want to use gendered terms like “manpower” or “chairman.” These terms show the institutional nature of non-inclusive language, and you can replace them easily with “workforce” and “chairperson.” 

2. Disability and invisible illness

Inclusive workplaces open doors for those with disabilities. The employment rate for disabled individuals is low, and the language used in workplaces is a driving factor in the statistics. 

  • Say this: “John is a person with a disability.”
  • Not this: “John is handicapped.” 

Handicapped is an outdated and non-ableist term. Plus, a person with a disability isn’t handicapped, and many people with disabilities live fulfilling lives. 

3. Mental, emotional, and cognitive diversity

Mental health is a critical issue, and suicides are rising worldwide. Many feelings of self-harm are a result of negative connotations around mental, emotional, and cognitive diversity. 

  • Say this: “The amount of work was overwhelming.”
  • Not this: “The amount of work was insane.”

Those with mental disabilities find language like “crazy” or “psycho” demeaning. Those struggling with PTSD, OCD, or other emotional and mental challenges can easily fall victim in non-inclusive environments.  

  • Say this: “Jane is neurodiverse.” 
  • Not this: “Jane has a mental disability.” 

Those with autism or other cognitive impairments can find an inclusive environment when you include language that supports differences instead of dividing them.   

4. Physicality

Physicality, or how someone looks, breeds biases of all kinds, from gender bias to sexual orientation bias. Avoid the non-inclusive language of some of these phrases by eliminating them from your team’s vocabulary.

  • “Transgender males/females aren’t real males/females.”
  • “Everyone wants to be an acronym these days.”
  • “You throw like a girl.”
  • “She looks like a dude.” 
  • “You should really lose some weight.” 

Comments about how people look damage self-esteem and contribute to the mental health crisis. When you hear language like this, snuff it out immediately. Lacking confidence? Partner with Coach Diversity Institute for an individual program that guides you to becoming a diversity coach! 

5. Race, ethnicity, and nationality

Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and nationality is present in our language through slang terms like “gypped” or “ghetto.” These terms are derogatory to specific groups of people based on their nationalities or ethnicities. 

  • Say this: “They are from systematically minoritized groups.” 
  • Not this: “They are minorities.” 

It’s best to use more inclusive language that reflects the systematic marginalization of people of color. 

  • Say this: “They are from a developing nation.” 
  • Not this: “They are from a third-world country.”

The goal of any thriving workplace culture is to make everyone feel included. Terms like “third-world” attempt to divide people. 

6. Religion

In America, we have freedom of religion, and in that vein, we need to be tolerant of others’ religious beliefs. Many times, spiritual discrimination pairs with ethnic discrimination. 

  • Say this: “They have Arab heritage.” 
  • Not this: “They’re probably Muslim.” 

Not only is it rude to assume someone’s religious identification, but it’s hurtful to assume someone practices a specific faith because of their ethnicity. 

7. Acquired diversity

Not all diversity is with us from birth. Individuals can acquire diversity through various means, such as working in another country. The lack of language skills can prevent effective communication, but the experience is invaluable. To make guest workers feel welcome, avoid using outdated language like “Limited English Proficiency” and use “English learners” instead. 

Acquired diversity can also take the form of caring for someone with a disability. These caretakers may need accommodations related to the care of their families. Diversity initiatives that include those with acquired diversity can help improve retention rates for your team. 

Some Things to Keep in Mind

Coaching your team to provide a more inclusive workplace starts with leadership and determination. You can put aside unconscious biases by keeping a few things in mind when approaching inclusive language. 

  • Put the person before their descriptor
  • Be conscious of using idioms and jargon
  • Avoid language related to mental health
  • Use gender-neutral and person-first language
  • Be mindful of creative imagery
  • Don’t be afraid to ask if you’re not sure

These principles should carry over during messaging and emails. It’s hard to tell when someone is being sarcastic or playful through text, and it’s easy to come across as non-inclusive through poor word choice. 

Create a More Inclusive Work Environment with Coach Diversity Institute

Inequality is everywhere. From job descriptions to social media, everyday phrases with dark origins plague our language. The flexibility of English allows us to modify how we say things to invite diversity into the conversation. By simply replacing one or two words, what you say can instantly become more inclusive. Inclusive language is constantly evolving, and it’s essential to refresh and remove outdated words from the vocabulary frequently! 

The best way to stay current with the changes in diversity, equity, and inclusion is to partner with Coach Diversity Institute. Enrolling in a leadership course allows you to engage your diverse teams more effectively and helps you learn how to coach others to speak more inclusive language. Get started today and learn how you can make a difference!