Using inclusive language can have a huge impact on increasing diversity in the workplace. But what is inclusive language? It is defined as the use of language that avoids the use of certain expressions or words that might be considered to exclude particular groups of people. For example, you should avoid using more masculine-sounding words such as ‘determination’ and ‘driven’, instead you can use words like ‘collaborate’ which are more neutral. This can be particularly useful during hiring, which a study has shown in an analysis of more than 7,500 job adverts, that adverts using strong masculine language saw the number of female candidates applying for the role drop by up to 10 percent), with less than half (44 percent) applying for those positions.
There are many different categories that are often referenced in brand language that should be avoided, some of these are:
Communication skills are among the top transferable skills in the workplace and play an important part in all areas of our lives whether it’s in the workplace or in our daily life. We communicate in so many ways that we are often not even aware we are using these skills; however, we must make sure we are conscious of whether we are using them in an inclusive way. This is important as it will help to make everyone feel included and have a sense of belonging, and it is this recognition that helps individuals to develop a feeling of self-worth and comfort. If we don’t challenge stereotypes and biases, it can lead to those in underrepresented groups to feel like outsiders and make them avoid going for jobs in companies where they use language favouring another group of people. However, this not only benefits the employee but also the employer. If an organization has an inclusive culture, one where employees feel valued, this will help encourage staff to work hard for the company.
It is also imperative to get this right because if companies don’t, it could lead to discrimination which The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from. This means it is illegal to treat someone unfairly because of who they are, including their gender, race, age, sexual orientation, disability, religion or beliefs. If discrimination is taking place, it can negatively impact an employee’s mental health, leading to conditions such as anxiety and depression. This can lead to high staff turnover, poor work performance, and a toxic workplace, therefore, negatively affecting both the business and the employee.
There are many benefits of inclusive language. Firstly, it will ensure employees feel included and valued, and research has shown that creating a sense of belonging is important to overall business success with 79% of organizations agreeing with this sentiment. This will help improve diversity in your workplace as people from all walks of life will feel comfortable and encouraged to join your company, bringing with them different experiences and cultures. By encouraging an inclusive culture you will be not only helping the wellbeing of your employees, but will also have many benefits to the company as it will increase employee retention and increase performance. This is important in the tech industry as they have had the highest turnover rates, costing time and resources. In particular, this field has a high turnover of women with a staggering 56% of women leaving the industry 10-20 years into their careers, double the rate of men. Therefore we need to ensure we use inclusive language that does not use a male tone, especially as research shows women care more about inclusive language than men. It will also encourage loyalty towards the company if staff feel they are appreciated and have been treated well.
Moreover, having a diverse team helps to better represent an organization’s customer base as it is unlikely to be solely people with one type of background, gender, etc. Therefore, this will allow you to gain more perspectives on the services or products your consumer needs, enabling you to meet these requirements and gain more business. In addition, if you have a diverse team, Forbes has stated that it will allow more innovation than those companies lacking diversity, allowing a competitive advantage over their rivals. It will also aid the use of inclusive language as people with different backgrounds can have a say in whether the language used in job descriptions/adverts/in the workplace are appropriate for everyone.
Society is ever-changing and it is important that companies reflect these shifts. Inclusive language is one of these factors that should adapt to the times, helping to demonstrate that we are becoming a more respectful and thoughtful society and one which values all of its members. For example, making sure you don’t use language with a gender, racial or cultural bias shows you your company is considerate and inclusive and will help you be more favourable than those that adopt bias language and alienate certain groups. This will help other companies to look more into their language and, hopefully, this will have a snowball effect, encouraging more critical thinking. It also challenges outdated ways of thinking and supports the recognition of marginalized groups, fighting against discrimination.
Fostering inclusive language helps to build strong relationships as it creates equality between people and shows respect, whether it’s between colleagues or just people you meet in your everyday life. It also means we avoid making assumptions about people, whether that’s about someone’s gender, race or other characteristics, which could otherwise lead to tension or friction between groups of people. Instead, it creates a warm and welcoming environment for people where they can feel safe in sharing their thoughts, ideas and opinions without having a fear of not being accepted. Furthermore, it builds trust between individuals as you feel a sense of connection. In turn, this will help to close any social gaps, creating unity.
There are so many ways we can make language in the workplace more inclusive; one being changing language used in job descriptions. Factors that should be considered are removing any gender-coded language, such as:
Female-coded words: Empathy, sensitive, nurture, compassion
Male-coded words: Aggressive, ambitious, assertive, dominant
These words will lead to recruitment bias when you’re trying to hire new employees, because women will be put off job adverts that sound too male-dominated and vice versa, ultimately reducing your talent pool. Instead, good words to use are words such as ‘cooperative’ and ‘collaborative’ which give the sense of working as a team, everyone included.
However, it is not just gendered language that needs to be avoided, racial bias can also conscious, or subconsciously, be used in the recruitment process if employers aren’t careful. For example, using phrases like ‘must have strong English-Language skills’ may stop non-native English speakers from applying for the job as it might make them already feel they won’t be good enough or accepted. Another example is using terms like ‘blacklisting’ which are sometimes used in cybersecurity job descriptions because it refers to “malicious or suspicious entities that shouldn’t be allowed access or running rights, in a system or network.”. However, it also carries the connotations of ‘black’ being bad or negative and ‘white’ being good and ideal. In addition, you shouldn’t use competitive or superlative titles and descriptions, such as hacker, hero, guru, ninja or super, as they tend to speak to a primarily male audience. It is also essential to focus on the person, not their characteristics. For example, instead of “a blind woman” or “a saleswoman,” use “a woman who is blind” or “a woman on our sales team.”
Employee networks are voluntary groups of colleagues that share a common background, such as beliefs, gender or orientation. The use of these in the workplace would be effective for ensuring you are using inclusive language because it would allow people to feel they can share their thoughts about how they feel about the company in a safe environment and give them confidence to speak up if they think anything needs improving or they have noticed any bias behaviour. It is also a great way to increase diversity in your organisation as everyone will feel like they are heard, no matter who they are. Allowing an open line of communication will allow both the employer to understand it’s employees and vice versa, creating a friendly environment.
Having training sessions for staff is also an effective tool to help them understand the importance of creating an inclusive culture and how to do so. It’s easy to think ‘I don’t exclude specific groups of people; therefore, I don’t need any training on it’. However, sometimes it’s easy to not even realise we’re being bias in our language, this is where training can help. It will allow people to recognise how certain words or phrases can negatively affect people and encourage them to change. An example of this might be not realising the impact certain expressions might have on those with mental health issues, such as ‘I’m having a bit of OCD today’ or ‘I’m being a bit bi-polar’ when in fact, they’re just tidying up or feeling a bit all over the place. Whilst it’s unlikely people mean any harm by saying things like this, they can minimize what some people go through who suffer from these conditions. Training will help bring awareness to these types of events.
Whilst this may not be directly related to the use of inclusive language, having a diversity calendar in the workplace will help to make all employees feel like part of the team and as though their heritage is not only accepted, but celebrated. It can also act as a talking point between colleagues enabling them to engage in conversations about each other’s religions or background, helping to build strong bonds.
You can read more about some of the important diversity dates in 2023 here.
All in all, whilst it can seem tricky to get it all right at first, the most important thing is to take that first step in changing. Don’t be afraid to ask colleagues, friends, or family questions if you are ever unsure if terms are inclusive or not people would be more than happy to help you out! Also, if you ever do make a mistake just learn and grow from it and make a commitment to yourself to never stop learning as we can create equality. Also remember, it is everyone that needs to make the effort, from directors to those at entry-level and that’s how we’ll really make a difference.
You can find out more about diversity in the workplace here.