Why your company culture needs an inclusive language guide

A headshot of a man in a dark blue shirt smiling at the camera.

Inclusivity in your business is vital. Representing all races, genders, ages, abilities, and identities in brand materials and advertising is ethical and makes business sense. While it may be second nature for your company to include diverse images on your website, imagery is not the only way to be inclusive. A more subtle aspect is the use — or lack thereof — of inclusive language.

Inclusive language definition: language that does not exclude or stereotype based on individual characteristics such as race, sexual orientation, age, ability, or gender identity
A graphic showing the definition of inclusive language: language that does not exclude or stereotype based on individual characteristics such as race, sexual orientation, age, ability, or gender identity.

Inclusive language: language that does not exclude or stereotype based on individual characteristics such as race, sexual orientation, age, ability, or gender identity

In many ways, exclusive language is baked into everyday vocabulary. Common words and phrases may seem innocuous, like referring to a multi-gender group as “you guys” or allowed versus disallowed content as “whitelisted” and “blacklisted.” But taking a moment to consider the terms used reveals positive/negative associations at best and exclusion at worst. In the business world especially, the last thing you want is to exclude and alienate current or potential customers and employees.

The range of inclusive language to consider is vast and ensuring your company culture becomes inclusive is not a short process. However, the potential business effects are real: 67% of respondents to an Endelman study said they became customers of a brand because they agreed with its values on a controversial issue. Three in four Gen Zers said they’ll boycott a company if it exhibits racial discrimination.

Unfortunately, the concept of inclusive language is anything but simple. Here are a few points to consider about what inclusive language is and is not:

A diagram describing what is and is not inclusive language.
A diagram describing what is and is not inclusive language.

A diagram describing what is and is not inclusive language.

Inclusive language is not limited to the written word.

Being inclusive in written materials is important, but you also need to consider internal inclusion when creating a culture of inclusive language. If making your brand inclusive means it is welcoming to all, your employees should be included. Using inclusive language internally and discussing it in meetings puts inclusivity on the table and sets the standard for employee behavior. When creating content, view it from multiple angles and ask for feedback on how it could be interpreted by different audiences.

Inclusive language is fluid and always changing.

Remember that standards and best practices for inclusive language change all the time because language itself is fluid. Words that were acceptable a decade ago may not be anymore. Current “official terms” used by large organizations may be considered outdated and even offensive by contemporary users.

Keeping the conversation about inclusive language alive and encouraging employees to bring up ideas and examples is one way to remain up to date. Inclusive language guides like the one produced by the American Psychological Association are another source of information.

Inclusive language is a continuous learning process. 

Listen to groups of people often excluded by language. Those affected most by exclusive language should be the ones to determine what and what is not acceptable to use. When you’re unsure what language to use, look to outward-facing content produced by organizations dedicated to these groups.

For example, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind uses person-first language: “people who are blind,” not “blind people.” Conversely, the Trevor Project uses identity-first language: “transgender person,” not “a person who is transgender.”

Inclusive language is not something that can be done perfectly.

There are many nuances and considerations to keep in mind when developing a culture of inclusive language. It’s impossible to anticipate every pitfall, and mistakes will be made. And that’s okay. When you make a mistake, learn from it and improve next time.

Be sincere and honest in the steps you take to address exclusive language, whether it’s through an apology, revision, or new initiative. Customers and potential employees will be able to tell whether your efforts are genuine or just for show, which leads to the next point.

Inclusive language is a reflection of your brand and its values.

Choosing whether or not to implement inclusive language can have drastic effects on your potential candidate pool. An employer brand that emphasizes diversity and inclusion efforts will attract a diverse talent pool whose contributions will be valued. Much of inclusive language is outward-facing, from messaging shared through social media to interactions with HR professionals. Ensure that your diversity recruiting strategy uses inclusive language so you don’t hamper your hiring decisions before candidates even apply.

Being an inclusive company means inclusivity is a priority at every level, from talent acquisition and onboarding to promotions and acquisitions. Integrating company values in an authentic way is critical to an inclusive and diverse hiring process, especially when using automated assessment tools.

Knockri allows you to upload intro and outro videos to your assessments to personalize the experience and speak directly to candidates. Use this opportunity to highlight your company’s commitment to inclusivity, both explicitly and using inclusive language. Book a demo with our HR solutions consultant to learn how you can personalize your hiring process and put candidates at ease.

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