One of the many effects of globalization in recent years has been a notable increase in diversity within organizations and their workforce. Companies and the people that work for them are more diverse than ever, as are their suppliers and customers. As a result, corporate communications must address a wide variety of audiences, and inclusive language plays an important role in that regard. The words a company decides to use—whether consciously or unconsciously—provide insight into its culture and values. As such, choosing your words with care goes a long way to ensuring the success of your internal and external communications.
What is inclusive language?
According to the United Nations: “Using gender-inclusive language means speaking and writing in a way that does not discriminate against a particular sex, social gender or gender identity, and does not perpetuate gender stereotypes. Given the key role of language in shaping cultural and social attitudes, using gender-inclusive language is a powerful way to promote gender equality and eradicate gender bias.”
Inclusive language serves different purposes. In particular, it enables us to:
Better reflect our contemporary society in all its diversity;
Create greater gender equality between men and women;
Combat gender-based stereotypes;
Recognize minority or marginalized groups.
There are many different writing strategies that can be used to ensure inclusive communications. These strategies vary from one language to the next due to a variety of language-specific grammatical characteristics, particularly those involving gendered nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and past participles.
Unlike French and Spanish, English has the advantage of being fairly grammatically neutral to begin with. Nouns and pronouns used to describe objects, adjectives used to describe both people and objects, and past participles are not gendered, which makes the task of inclusive writing somewhat easier. There are, however, a lot of unconscious biases and assumptions that slip into our writing. Thankfully, there are a number or techniques we can use to avoid them.
How to make writing more inclusive
The first step to inclusive writing, before you compose a single sentence, is to analyze your target audience. Successful inclusive writing takes into account cultural, social, demographic, gender, and other aspects to achieve its goal: avoiding discrimination. This step will also help you determine the most appropriate tone to address your audience.
Gender is a particularly important aspect of inclusive writing. It’s important to be aware of unnecessary references to gender in your writing and to strive to be gender-inclusive, that is, inclusive of men, women, and individuals of other genders.
Here are some techniques and solutions for producing gender-inclusive texts.
Skip formal salutations and titles such as “Dear Sir,” “Dear Madam,” “Mr.” and “Mrs.”
Use a person’s preferred pronouns if known.
Avoid gender assumptions based on people’s names. Gender-neutral names are increasingly possible, and even people with typical male or female names may not identify as such.
Avoid gender assumptions based on job titles. Men can be nurses. Women can be fire fighters.
Avoid gendered job titles such as “handyman” or “cleaning lady.”
Replace or omit gendered pronouns. This is an incredibly useful strategy that can be achieved in several different ways:
A practical application: Inclusive language in job descriptions
When writing job offers or job descriptions, be sure to use inclusive language and to avoid gender stereotypes. Do not assume that candidates for a high-level management position will be men and use “he/him” or that candidates for a secretarial position will be women and use “she/her.”
· Replace gendered occupation titles with neutral ones and avoid the use of “man” or “woman.” Example: “chairperson” or “chair” instead of “chairman” or “chairwoman.”
· Repeat person nouns (or job titles) instead of using a pronoun. Example: Once a candidate is selected for an interview and sent an interview request, the candidate will have 24 hours to respond.
· Switch to the plural, which enables you to use “they/them.” Example: all candidates must confirm that they have read our diversity policy.
· Use “they/them/their” as gender-neutral pronouns when referring to a single person. Example: the successful candidate must provide their availabilities for an onboarding session.
· Finally, openly encourage people from all backgrounds and of all gender identities to apply. This is a wonderful opportunity to highlight and promote your gender diversity practices.
Using inclusive language in the workplace transcends corporate policies. It’s a linguistic choice that reflects your organization’s commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion. The use of inclusive language sends a clear message to your employees, suppliers, and customers alike: that you value every individual. By adopting these language tips, you can create an environment that fosters integration, recognition and respect.