Want to be More Inclusive? Start With The Language.

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Many workplaces claim to be inclusive. But do you think that yours is enough? Nowadays, diversity in the workplace has been a hot topic, especially for young workers. Recruiting staff from various backgrounds, cultures, genders, and religions means you have opened the door to diversity, but it doesn’t guarantee that you already provide an inclusive environment.

If you wish to be inclusive, you need to respect and encourage people’s differences. You can start this by being mindful of the language you use, commonly referred to as using inclusive language. In this blog, we will learn about the benefits of inclusivity, what inclusive language is, and its examples.

What are the benefits of being inclusive?

Before we start talking about inclusive language, it’s essential to understand why you should now implement inclusivity at your workplace. The moral reasons for doing so might be easy to understand. However, you will gain so much more than just the feel-good factor:

#1: Increased productivity

 By being inclusive, your employees will feel valued and heard. Those feelings will likely motivate them to put in extra effort to the company’s benefits. Therefore, being inclusive can boost the productivity of your staff.

#2: Wider consumer market

It depends on what kind of business you’re running, but most of the time, diversity can lead to a larger share of the consumer market. Most people seek to engage with who they can connect and self-identify with the group. When your business is inclusive with the diverse team behind it, you can expect more customers to choose you.

#3: Attract qualified talents

Inclusivity is attractive to job seekers. When future employees are attracted to your company, it’s easier to find qualified talents in the future.

Group of worker smiling in front of a whiteboard, one of them is using a wheelchair
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 What is inclusive language?

We already know the benefits of being inclusive. Now it’s time to answer your curiosity about inclusive language! Whether we like it or not, much of our everyday language excludes people from different backgrounds. It’s frequently unconscious and unintentional, so we will need to unlearn as much as we learn to use inclusive language.

According to dictionary.com, inclusive language avoids the use of certain expressions or words that might be considered to exclude particular groups of people, especially gender-specific words, such as “man,” “mankind,” and masculine pronouns, the use of which might be considered to exclude women (and others).

To start, you can avoid using gendered career words such as “policeman,” “congressman,” “salesman,” etc., and replace them with gender-neutral terms like police, congressperson, salesperson, etc. Using plural gender-neutral pronouns like “they” as generic descriptors can also combat a male-centric environment. Moreover, you may have a staff who identifies outside the traditional man/woman gender binary, so your language must consider them.

Inclusive language goes beyond gender, though. Let’s explore more examples that will likely apply to your workplace.

What are the examples?

Ditching derogatory terms or slurs isn’t enough; you must also eliminate common words that you may not even know are offensive. This is the key to making sure that each and every person feels valued, comfortable, and safe.

#1 Age

The modern workplace tends to favor young workers and hold negative attitudes about aging, which can be harmful (read more about ageism). Using the word “old people” can be controversial, as each person has a different understanding of what age people start to get “old.” 

Kory Stamper, a lexicographer and an author, said that the phrase “older adults” has become much more common, whereas “senior” and “senior citizen” have seen sharp declines in usage. Another solution is to scrap broad labels and specify the ages in question, such as “people age 50 and up” or “people 50-plus.” Other than that, some people point out that it’s unnecessary to bring up someone’s age all the time.

#2 Class

To appropriately cater to people from all backgrounds, strive to eliminate classist vocabularies. Classist terms to avoid include: “hobo,” “impoverished,” “needy,” “poor person,” “poverty-stricken,” “the homeless,” “the less fortunate,” or “the unfortunate.”

Start using the more inclusive alternative like “economically disadvantaged,” “a person experiencing homelessness,” “a person experiencing poverty,” “a person living at/below the poverty line.”

#3 Disabilities

Language can be ableist. Ableism is simply the discrimination against anyone with a physical or mental disability. Unfortunately, we might be unintentionally engaging in ableist behavior by using words like “blind”, “deaf,” “dumb,” “idiot,” “insane,” “lame,” “nuts,” “psycho,” etc., out of their appropriate context.

Instead of using these ableist words, practice the habit of clear communication. Why do you need to say, “My boss is crazy if they think we’re going to meet that deadline,” when you can simply say: “This deadline is unrealistic.”

#4 Religion

Instead of using Anno Domini (AD) and before Christ (BC) when labeling years, use Common Era (CE) and Before Common Era (BCE) to cater to workers of other beliefs. Avoid saying “Merry Christmas” or other holiday greetings to someone without knowing their religious affiliation. Use the term “place of worship” or “house of prayer” instead of the word “church” when referring to a general place of worship.

Closeup picture of diverse people joining their hands
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Things to keep in mind

There are still a lot of examples that we couldn’t cover in this blog. The more diverse your workplace is, the more factors that you need to consider. It’s important to remember that language always evolves. What people consider to be an inclusive word today might change in the future. 

The most important thing is to be open to changes and listen to your actual employees. Note that different people might have different comfort levels towards certain words. Your responsibility is to make them safe and included at the workplace.

Our intentions are important. When we choose to be inclusive with our language, we are taking a step forward to foster an inclusive environment that benefits the company and its employees. In AIESEC, we value diversity and inclusion, and that with our international talents, companies can start building a more diverse and inclusive culture. Check out our programs if you’re interested in recruiting bright talents from around the world.

We hope this blog can help your workplace to start being inclusive. Want to add something to the list? Feel free to put your thoughts in the comment section. Don’t forget to share with your friends and colleagues to start the conversation about inclusive language.


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