Language is coded, and we can unintentionally exclude others by our word choice. This video discusses some tips for using inclusive language.
- The words you use signal who's in and who's out. Your language is culturally loaded whether or not you intend for it to be. Setting the tone for an inclusive team involves choosing your words carefully. Here are some tips on how to use inclusive language on your team. To start, use broad terms to signal relationship status if it's needed at all. When referring to individuals your teammates have personal relationships with, you can use partner rather than husband, wife or spouse.
Partner is a broader title because it can be applied to many relationship statuses and doesn't make any assumptions. If you're encouraging teammates to bring a guest to a function then you really don't need to identify whom they can bring. Just saying you and a guest is cleaner and more inclusive. Some may bring a partner. Others may choose to invite a friend or a family member. The guest is most likely a person who supports and cares for your employee and that's reason enough to include them and get to know them.
When discussing professions, remove gender from job titles. Instead of fireman, policeman or businessman, you can use firefighter, police officer and business executive. These are gender inclusive positions that are often associated with men. Similarly, there are also professions that are most likely to be associated with women but the gender specific naming is unnecessary. When possible, remove gender pronouns altogether.
Rather than he or she, you can use they. Instead of him or her, use their. Gender pronouns and other gendered language has been shown to bias the candidate pool for job advertisements. The words you choose in a position description can actually increase the likelihood that it will appeal to men or women. For example, independent, dominant and fast paced are words that traditionally appeal to men but statistically repel women from applying.
Women are more likely to respond to positions with collaboration, supportive and cooperation in the descriptions. All of these words are fine to use but it matters how you use them and you want to make sure that your language is balanced so that you equally appeal to men and women. Don't worry, you don't have to individually look up every descriptor. There are apps that can help with this. I've included links in the Exercise Files. Finally, the words you use to describe specific behaviors can be biased and reinforce negative stereotypes about minorities and women.
It happens fairly frequently. Two nearly identical situations occur but get described very differently based on the people involved. For example, after a natural disaster, you may see news coverage of people getting supplies from abandoned stores. Some are described as looking in the store for resources while others doing the exact same thing are described as looting which is a crime. We also see this in words used to describe women.
Words like bossy, ambitious and feisty are loaded labels that can derail a woman's career. If you find you're annoyed by a behavior from one person that doesn't frustrate you when it comes from another, this is a place where you want to check your unconscious bias. Language is coded and we can unintentionally exclude people by our word choice. Remember these tips to ensure you're using language that doesn't exclude anyone.
- Creating a shared understanding of why inclusion matters
- Establishing trust
- Using inclusive language
- Providing feedback in diverse teams
- Discovering implicit associations
- Delegating work and opportunities equitably
- How unconscious bias creeps into the hiring process