Joy: Inclusive Language Is Needed In The Office

To foster diversity and inclusion, to unlearn bias and stereotypes, to enhance employee’s engagement and wellbeing, and to attract talents, companies need to adapt an inclusive language. Our colleague Joy Brandt explains what needs to be considered for this process.

June 22, 2023

Our colleague Joy started her D!B journey as a Junior Consultant in our Operations team last year. Since then, she has gained experiences in many People & Culture areas such as creating contracts, managing the on-boarding process at our clients, supporting the end-to-end-recruiting process, including sourcing, CV screening, interviews, and communications with candidates. At the moment, she takes care of clients such as The Quality Group and Knauf.

For Joy, the topics of equality and equity are very important, as she deeply believes the society needs to be way more inclusive. In addition, this topic is personal to her as she has been living with depression for over 10 years and language can be used in a discriminating way against people with mental health conditions. That is why she has made a deep dive as part of an inclusive workspace and language.

Many Advantages Of Integrating An Inclusive Language

An inclusive language helps create a welcoming and respectful environment for employees of diverse backgrounds, including different genders, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, ages, abilities, and personalities. It acknowledges and values diversity and intersectionality within the workforce, strengthening a sense of belonging, of feeling seen, respected, and identified.  

In addition, such a corporate language reduces bias and stereotypes that are present in traditional or outdated language. By using inclusive terms and unlearning discriminatory language, companies can ensure that their communication is fair and respectful to all individuals, cultivating a more equitable workplace. When employees feel included, seen and valued, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and productive. It increases job satisfaction and higher levels of employee retention.

In today's competitive job market, many candidates – especially Gen Z – seek out companies that prioritise and include diversity, inclusion, equality, and belonging. By encouraging inclusive language, an organisation enhances its employer brand and attracts a broader pool of qualified candidates.

Moreover, an inclusive language fosters effective communication and collaboration among team members. It encourages open dialogue, active listening, and understanding between individuals from different backgrounds. When everyone feels comfortable expressing their ideas and perspectives, it can lead to more innovative problem-solving, creativity, and overall team performance.

The Process Needs A Thoughtful And Systematic Approach

Start by educating employees about the importance of inclusive language and its impact on creating a diverse and respectful workplace. Make sure to emphasise the historical context, our internalised biases and the intersectional approach.

When developing inclusive language guidelines within the organisation, make sure to not burden affected employees with this task, but rather hire trained professionals from different backgrounds. Affected employees are not responsible for explaining and educating non-affected employees, especially not for free. If you want to include employees, voluntary employee-led Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are a good approach - just make sure that employees from all levels of your organisation are contributing. Encourage organisation-wide employee input and feedback with anonymous employee surveys to ensure the guidelines reflect an intersectional range of perspectives and experiences.

Guidelines should outline ideal inclusive language practices within the company. This guide should provide different examples and explanations of inclusive terms and phrases, while highlighting common pitfalls to unlearn, such as gendered language.

The easiest way to be more inclusive is stating your and asking for pronouns. Add them to your signature and the different tool profiles you might have. If you are unsure about someone's pronouns or talking about a third person, just use they/them. Nevertheless, employees should always choose language that respects people as active individuals with control over their own lives. Following are some examples to look out for:

·     terms such as “normal” →there is no normal, we are all different

·     “wheelchair bound” → “wheelchair user”

·     “invalid” or “victim” → “disabled” or “has a disability”

·     common phrases like “turn a deaf ear” or “turn a blind eye” → “chose not to listen or look”

·     “crazy”, “insane” or “mad” → consider the actual behaviours you’re trying to describe, e.g., “unpredictable”or “impulsive”

·     stereotypical phrases as “chairman” or “girlboss” → “chair” or “boss”

·     gendered adjectives like “assertive” or “hysterical” → “communicative” or “agitated”

·     binary forms of address like “Hey guys” → “Hey you all” or “Hey everyone”

As you can see, it is necessary to develop a style guide to support an inclusive language which makes everyone feel seen, respected and identified.

During the process, People & Culture should always conduct training sessions, workshops, or awareness campaigns to help employees to learn the inclusive language in their day-to-day communication and provide them with a clear understanding of the concepts and guidelines. Training should be ongoing and accessible to all employees, including managers and executives.

Especially leaders should actively demonstrate the use of inclusive language in their own communication. When employees see that managers prioritise and embrace inclusive language, it reinforces the importance of these practices throughout the organisation. Part of the learning process are mistakes, this happens and is okay! Acknowledge it and don't be afraid to ask. Also, every person prefers to be approached differently (identity first vs. person first approach), this needs to be respected.

“Our words are powerful, they create our reality and affect everyone around us. We as People & Culture professionals have the power to shape and co-create the future of our society, the values in the workplace and the development of future generations”, concludes Joy

Personal Facts About Joy

Joy is a world caring equality fan, wannabe Brit and sometimes traveler. In addition, she is vegan and likes to explore the vegan kitchen. Other hobbies are gardening and planting different veggies growing in raised beds on her balcony – and reading many books. She loves to educate herself, growing and learning.

Her superpowers are that she is an optimist in almost every situation, able to structure and organise literally anything. With every step she takes, she aims to change the world for the better. That's why she always lives by the motto: Don't be afraid, be loud!

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