Posted: 06 Jul. 2021 6 min. read

The Power of Inclusive Language

A call to action for organizations

The Power of Inclusive Language

An inclusive language is a powerful tool for demonstrating inclusive behavior and cultivating a sense of belonging among an increasingly diverse workforce. In part one of our blog on inclusive language, we highlighted the importance of inclusion, explained the case for inclusive language, and shared practical steps individuals can take to demonstrate inclusive behavior via the language they use and how they can encourage others to do the same. These steps, which are not meant to be an exhaustive list, included:

  • Use people-first language that centers the individual rather than their descriptor
  • Set aside assumptions about the background and preferences of others; use neutral words related to gender, sexual orientation, and other distinguishing qualities
  • Consider the historical context and implications of words and phrases as sometimes seemingly neutral idioms are based on oppression or cultural insensitivity

As organizations evolve and advance their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) journey and commitments, they have an opportunity and responsibility to create the conditions for more inclusive behavior and cultures. In this blog, we introduce a framework that can help organizations take meaningful action to create more inclusive environments.

Call To Action For Organizations

 There are specific actions organizations can and should take to enable and equip the workforce with the tools and resources needed to use inclusive language. A few of these actions are highlighted below.

Listen

Organizations can make a concerted effort to listen by gathering information from their workforce.

  • Survey specific segments of the workforce to build a repository of words or phrases that may be deemed harmful
  • Review and accept survey feedback and share findings broadly with the organization as part of an inclusive language education campaign
  • Provide language guidance from leadership to the workforce to equip them with the tools and resources needed to use more inclusive language 

Acknowledge & Accept

Similar to how individuals should acknowledge, apologize, and start again when they use non-inclusive language, organizations should also acknowledge past, and current use of non-inclusive language or terminology, and be transparent about required or recommended changes, and new guidance for the workforce. For example, in 2020, many technology companies acknowledged and published actionable plans to move away from using terms such as whitelist, blacklist, master, and slave in the technical context.1,2 A few actions organizations can take:

  • Send messages from leadership that directly acknowledge changes in language guidance and explain the rationale for such changes
  • Take responsibility for when mistakes are made
  • Apologize directly to those impacted by the use of non-inclusive language in communications, materials, etc.

Do better

By directly engaging the workforce on the topic of inclusive language, and actively using inclusive language in company-wide communications (internal and external), organizations can demonstrate that inclusive language is a priority and area of focus. For example, a large, cloud-based software company implemented an advisory board for inclusive language made up of corporate leaders, employees, and Employee Resource Group members3. The purpose was to listen and learn from the communities’ lived experiences, review language choice to determine if it is exclusive or not, and if so, give recommendations for more inclusive language choice. A few actions organizations can take:

  • Host events specific to inclusive language, and provide space for workers to tell stories and share examples of the impact and harm caused by non-inclusive language
  • Provide inclusive language training, such as Deloitte’s Say This Not That tool
  • Use inclusive language externally in communications with your entire ecosystem (e.g., customers, clients, manufacturers, vendors, patients)
  • Strive to be a leader in inclusive language in your field or industry, setting an example for what it means to be committed to inclusive language in practice
  • Include inclusive language into existing and new policies or processes (e.g., create style guides or include a DEI professional in the review cycle for the new policy or process)

In summary, by listening to your workforce, proactively engaging in organization-wide conversations about inclusive language, acknowledging when non-inclusive language has been used, apologizing for the impact it had (seen or unseen), remedying mistakes through swift action, and actively using inclusive language both internally and externally, organizations can elevate individual actions to be organizational norms and augment the impact of inclusive language. While organizations cannot change how language has historically been used to marginalize people in specific contexts, they can change how they and by extension their workforce actively use inclusive language in a way that shows it is not a peripheral or suggested activity, but a core practice and expectation of all that is embedded in the organization’s DNA.

Authors:

Contributors:

Endnotes:

https://www.marketplace.org/2020/06/17/tech-companies-update-language-to-avoid-offensive-terms/

https://thenewstack.io/words-matter-finally-tech-looks-at-removing-exclusionary-language/

3 https://clarkstonconsulting.com/insights/inclusive-language-in-businesses/

Get in touch

Christina Brodzik

Christina Brodzik

Principal | Deloitte Consulting LLP

As a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP, Christina brings more than 20 years of experience to the human capital space. She focuses on financial services and insurance, and specializes in a wide range of transformations including strategic change, talent strategies, learning solutions, talent acquisition, and diversity & inclusion. As the national leader of Deloitte’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Client Service practice, she is a certified facilitator for Deloitte’s Inclusive Leadership Experience and Strategy Inclusion Labs. In addition her client responsibilities, Christina has served as the Financial Services Women’s Initiative lead for partner/director talent planning, as well as the Human Capital Women’s Initiative deputy.