As women in creative spaces, we understand language and expression is always changing and evolving. Whether you’re in leadership or just starting out in your career, it’s important to stay up-to-date with acceptable language use. But, this is no simple task to tackle on your own. Take these steps to encourage inclusive language use at work and encourage further discussion about inclusive language with your colleagues.
Lead by Example
The language you’ve grown used to hearing in activist spaces might feel clunky and out of place in conference calls and brainstorming sessions. It can also be one of the most helpful ways to slowly normalize and encourage inclusive language around the office. Some examples of this could be:
- stating your preferred pronouns when introducing yourself to clients or new coworkers (or simply putting them in your email signature!)
- replacing words like “crazy” and “insane” with words like “ridiculous” or “wild” in conversation
- ensuring you know the differences between identities like Black and African-American, or Latino/Latina/Latinx and Hispanic — and using them correctly
Human beings have a natural tendencies to mimic each others’ behaviors, so affecting change can be as easy as starting with you. Subtle changes you make in your behavior will plant the seed to get folks thinking about their language use.
Lunch and Learn
Make it a teaching and learning moment with a lunch and learn! Call a weekly or monthly meeting with everyone in your office during the lunch hour for some non-work-related presentation time, and take the opportunity to discuss a cause that matters to you. You could unpack gender identity and sexuality in a fun way using the Genderbread Person, talk about person first language for folks with disabilities, or, if your office uses AP Style, you can walk through the ways AP Style has adjusted their rules for inclusivity (i.e., “they” as a singular pronoun).
Once you’ve finished your first discussion, you can invite coworkers or even influential folks in your community to talk about causes that matter to them. Lunch and learns can not only increase awareness of social issues in your office, but also enhance company culture, give your team members a break from the average work week, and provide a more relaxed opportunity to get to know each other personally.
Put It In Writing
Adding inclusive language to internal messaging and guidelines can take your team’s inclusivity to the next level. Work with your team to analyze your current employee handbook and modify it to be more inclusive (i.e., “To discuss these terms, the employee should talk to his or her manager” vs. “To discuss these terms, the employee should talk with their manager”). Change onboarding paperwork to include “preferred pronouns” and “preferred name” blanks. Add to your company’s brand identity guidelines and your copy style guide to include recommendations around inclusivity.
Making these updates will not only give your employees something to reference when they have questions about what words they should be using, but it will also show your employees you’re practicing what you preach, further emphasizing the importance of inclusive language to you and the company.
Call In vs. Call Out
When someone slips up and says something in conversation that may be be offensive or derogatory, it can be difficult to resist calling them out right then and there. Resist the urge to call them out, and, instead, call them in. Wait until the conversation has finished, then speak to the person one-on-one, educating them about the meaning of the word, and why it may be offensive in the way it was used. Speak to them how you’d want to be spoken to about it — give them the benefit of the doubt. They’re probably doing their best. Address it with intention to teach, not shame.
Note: this one is the hardest things to do, and you might not always have the emotional energy to call them in, especially if the offensive term they used is one that’s offensive to a marginalized community you identify with. That’s okay. It is not your obligation to call in folks around you. Take care of yourself when you need, and only take the opportunity to call in when you’re feeling up to it.
Of course, you shouldn’t be dishing it if you can’t take it. Part of calling people in is also having the ability to handle someone else calling you in with grace and understanding. Everyone is learning to be inclusive, and there’s no perfect or “right” way to do it. When you slip up, if you catch it, quickly correct your language without going overboard with apologies or drawing attention to it, and move on. If you say something you didn’t understand was offensive, thank the person who points it out to you, and change your behavior moving forward as best as you can.
Inclusive language is changing so frequently, it’s hard to keep up. The best thing you can do to support an inclusive language initiative is to be open and honest. Admit where you have room to learn, and ask questions when you don’t know the correct term or phrase to use. It can seem embarrassing to ask, but it’s so much less embarrassing than using the wrong term and really offending someone. Keep seeking to learn, and you and your company will always benefit from it.
/written by Nora Allen
/Image by Rawpixel