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You mean well, but are you saying it right?

Monday January 10, 2022, By Rashmi Ravindran

The world has come a long way and accepted that differences are not to be joked about and that majority is not equal to normalcy. We live in a world of myriad colors, and each person has a different blend that they bring along. It is important to understand and respect this – in every aspect of our society.

At the workplace, it is equally important to adopt behavioral and cultural practices of inclusion that allow people to be their authentic selves and bring the discretionary efforts that help them realize their full potential. Inclusive language contributes to creating an inclusive culture at the workplace. Defining ‘inclusive language’ can be tough; it is not an exhaustive list of words and phrases that we can or cannot use. It is a conscious practice of avoiding exclusion through words, coming from a deeper understanding of our biases, and constantly regulating our thoughts to be more inclusive.

Inclusive Language as part of organizational culture

Typically ‘Inclusive language’ refers to the traditionally underrepresented groups such as women, people of the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and others. As an organization keen on creating inclusion, adopting a conscious language is a good starting point. This intentionality communicates your understanding of the differences that exist amongst people. It indicates that as an organization, you accept and respect differences. It helps create a safe environment for all your employees, gives them a sense of belongingness, and encourages them to bring their best to work.

Non-conscious bias at play

A key aspect that we need to acknowledge and address would be the inherent bias that we carry due to our life-exposures – the family, education, friends, places we have been to, etc. Not all biases are bad – our brain uses them for survival. But it is important to understand that we all carry these biases and create stereotypes, acting against people’s interests. Training for non-conscious bias is a very important step in addressing this at the workplace as people are not aware that they are excluding others with their language or behavior. Remember, many of us do not intend to be that way, but we could be hurting others with our choice of words. Unintentionally excluding hurts people, and it needs to be addressed.

People-First Language vs. Identity-First language

When it comes to inclusive language, one of the first steps is to understand the two approaches – people-first language and identity-first language. It is critical to understand the preferences of people regarding how they would like to be referred. People-first language focuses on the person rather than their identity/ability and is generally the most preferred way to address an individual.

Guideline for Inclusive Language 

While it is impossible to create a list of the words one should avoid, a guideline that people across levels and functions can follow would be helpful. Some key components include:

  • Being respectful of others – There is no substitute for the respect we show a fellow human being. Being respectful, we are purposeful in our intention and conscious of our choice of words. Encourage respect across age and positions.
  • Prepare and deliver – This does not mean you cannot be spontaneous. It is about preparing and practicing your language to build a habit of being inclusive in your communication. Create a set of questions for the recruitment team to follow during an interview process. It covers important questions and helps the individual interviewer to speak the organization’s language.
  • Create a list and update – Ensure that there is consciousness about inclusive language. A ready reckoner of words to be used and constantly updating it keeps the memory afresh and makes the language part of the workplace culture.

There is no one solution to change how everyone talks or their choice of words. But you can practice inclusive language, making it part of the organization’s culture to become truly inclusive.

Author Profile

Rashmi Ravindran
Rashmi Ravindran
With over 15 years of experience, Rashmi specializes in content management, branding and communication strategy to create digital campaigns that are geared towards fulfilling the company’s vision of creating workplace inclusion.
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