You might be surprised how much exclusionary language can sneak its way into your workplace comms. You don’t have to be a social justice fanatic for these topics to matter. Talented employees won’t stay in environments that they find to be offensive or out of touch for long. Here are a few tips for making your language more inclusive:
If a descriptor doesn’t affect the message, don’t use it. When you unnecessarily mention the marginalized features of someone’s identity, like their race, sexuality, gender, religion, or disability status, you implicitly signal that the marginalized identity is “abnormal.” Slipups like this are more likely to occur during a town hall meeting than in a newsletter. If it’s not pertinent that a person is gay, Black, disabled, trans, or a particular religion, don’t mention it.
Remember: A female adult is a woman, not a girl. You wouldn’t call a masculine person in his mid-to-late twenties a “boy,” but women of that age are often referred to as “girls.” It may seem like a small matter, but it shows respect for women in the workplace and outside of it.
Default to “them” in the singular. Many people unconsciously use he/him pronouns for certain job titles and she/her pronouns for others. Trying to alternate between pronouns is tedious and often doesn’t stick. Instead, just use “them” when speaking about a hypothetical person or individual who hasn’t been specified. It might take time to get used to it, but defaulting to “them” is an inclusive choice that will show respect to people of all genders.
Trust people. If someone tells you that the way you’re speaking to them or about them is offensive, believe them and accept it. Do your best to respectfully follow the guidance they lay out. Remember that you don’t have the life experiences necessary to say whether what you said “should” or “shouldn’t” be offensive. These kinds of conversations are inevitable when your workplace is full of people with diverse backgrounds. Embrace them when they occur, and learn from colleagues as you go.
Does your organization need help with implementing inclusive language? Reach out to AOE today!