February 15, 2022
Have you ever received an email that starts with "Dear Sir/Madam?" Have you seen "Looking for Java Developer" on job boards with a photo of a 25-30-year-old man coding on his laptop? Or heard "Hey Guys" at the beginning of a meeting?
I am not a language expert, but for some time I have been observing my habits, how I address my colleagues, talk about less dominant groups, and what words I use to comment on or create social media content. I look at how we communicate among friends, at work, in the media, and what images accompany it.
What I'm sure of is that language is dynamic and changes over time to reflect socio-cultural shifts. It also shapes our reality. Our way of seeing the world depends on the words we use. The effect we want to achieve depends on our selection. With words, we can hurt and offend, but words can also make us happy or appreciated.
I am fortunate enough to work in an environment where we can all promote equality and respect for diversity in different ways. Only in an inclusive environment that accepts, respects, and values diversity can people truly fulfill themselves. A healthy work atmosphere can start with inclusive language. Thanks to the language we use, we can make sure that no one feels excluded or unwelcome.
Linguistic research proves that what we say is not only a reflection of reality but also a tool for creating it - this is a huge field for language activism. In press texts, company communication, and everyday language, it is possible to correct inequalities and exclude the mechanism of discrimination against others.
Inclusive language is intentionally egalitarian word choice that avoids expressions that show bias or prejudice. Additionally, inclusive language combats terminology that is elitist, racist, sexist, etc. This includes avoiding words and phrases that reinforce outdated cultural norms, standards, or expectations.
The workplace brings together many people from different walks of life. People of different genders, ethnicities, nationalities, and abilities. Effective communication prioritizes inclusion, celebrates, embraces, and supports the identities of these diverse groups.
When you use inclusive language, you:
In general - ALL THE TIME! There are many opportunities to use inclusive language, especially when referring to personal identity or the identity of socially or culturally distinct groups. Some examples are: aging, race, ethnicity, immigration status, mental attributes, language proficiency, ability, sex and sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity.
Using inclusive language can be a challenge, so I wanted to share some of the most important principles that can be a good start:
Going back to the "Hey Guys" mentioned at the beginning ... you're not a bad colleague if you're comfortable with or use the phrase "guys". Of course, there are larger issues, that feminists need to combat -, the gender gap, sexism, LGBTQ + rights, and the general reprogramming of most people's minds when it comes to the valuation of women in society and the workplace.
But when you stop paying attention to the visibility of individuals, you can lead to their exclusion and further to the loss of respect and equality.
I just want you to know you are one small step away from making a more conscious effort to dismantle (in case of using “hey guys”) the patriarchy. Instead of this, you can try using “Hey all”, “Hey everyone” or just simply - HEY!
As I wrote at the beginning, language is not static, it changes and evolves - as social and political climates shift, so must the language. It is a powerful tool of control, but it is an even more powerful tool for change. What was acceptable even a few years ago may no longer be appropriate. Language changes all the time but there is still value in keeping up to date and using the appropriate language for the times.
What if you make a mistake? Accept that you are human and that it’s okay to make mistakes. If you do make a mistake, apologize, correct/change what you have said, learn from the mistake, and move on. We are all in the process of learning - all the time.