Roxanne Bellamy: Our society has grown increasingly diverse. If trends continue, culturally diverse groups will make up the societal majority by 2040, or pretty close to that. Every time I've written that over the last three, four years, I think, oh, we're we're inch and closer and closer. It's pretty close now. That's right, by learning to speak to that diverse audience, you can not only broaden your reach, but also transfer what, what you mean to communicate your message to more and more people. So inclusive language is a way of being conscious of who your audience is and understanding how to make those people feel included in what you're saying.
Part of communicating more effectively with the diverse audience is beginning to understand your own biases, we all have them, and how they're present in your linguistic habits. We cannot assume that others share our viewpoint, and I think inclusive language really helps us sort of lay the groundwork there. In recruiting diverse talent did you know, for instance, I'm sure Jackie did, that your job, how your job description is written can encourage or discourage diversity in applicants for example. According to a gender insights report, in order to apply for a job, women feel that they need to meet a hundred percent of the criteria, while men usually apply around 60% of meeting the criteria.
So with small language changes, we can automatically tap into a much broader audience, um, and make sure that we are diversifying our workforces along the way. Generation Z is also an important part of this, born someone correct me if I'm wrong, Jackie, 1996 to 2009, is entering adulthood as the country's most racially and ethnically diverse generation and poised to become our best educated generation yet. Making up a quarter of the us population and 40% of all consumers, Gen Z is impacting business in a major way, and we wanna be ready for them.
For any business, hoping to thrive now and in the future and survive, not just thrive, understanding the behaviors of Gen Z and how technologically adept that group of consumers is, is critical to communicating with them. Just a few decades ago, also, most companies centered their marketing efforts around the prototypical consumer, caucasian, heterosexual, middle class, white collar, christian, since those people represented the majority of the consumer market today. However, the consumer market is very different. It's increasingly more diverse, different beliefs, habits, preferences, and ideals, and smart marketers have to adapt smart communicators, professional communicators, and leaders to have more focus on diversity and inclusion.
So that was a long way of saying inclusive language in the workplace does these things, it helps you lead and influence diverse teams. It helps improve your recruiting and your employee intention, retention, excuse me. It helps breed innovation and creativity, creating diverse teams that make smarter, faster decisions with less risk. It helps you tap into Gen Z in the workplace and the marketplace and expand your market reach.
Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely Roxanne, and you know, that's only some of the reasons why inclusive language is so important. We also wanna talk about why inclusive language matters in our communities beyond the workplace.
How are we showing up for our families and our communities? When I talk about environments, it's at home, right? It's at a restaurant with a new friend it's, you know, in a neighborhood gathering, but inclusive language can create stronger, more authentic relationships because you're creating relationships of trust, relationships of openness, relationships of learning, and relationships of respect, and that's so important.
It also teaches empathy, right? When you're willing to be vulnerable and learn and ask questions and not have all the answers and with inclusive language, we don't. Always have all the answers , uh, but it teaches empathy and teaches empathy to our children, and those that we can influence around us as well.
As Roxanne said, Gen Z is more diverse than any previous generation. So with, within our families and within our communities we wanna make sure that we're open and we're people that our, our family can come to, that our friends can come to, that our neighbors can come to and have discussions and feel safe and feel respected, and you do that through inclusive language and then it increase. Wellbeing and mental wellness. This is something in our communities and in our workplace that we're talking about more, uh, because it's so important as part of the wellness of a person, right. It's very easy to talk about, you know, going for your checkups to the doctor.
But it's been a little tougher to talk about mental wellness and taking care of ourselves, on the inside and, and how we're feeling as well. But it's so important and so inclusive language in addition to what it provides in the workplace and how it can impact your bottom line. It also breeds better relationships among those that we're close to.
Roxanne Bellamy: That's a great point. Jackie, I love your points about, um, increasing wellbeing and mental wellness. I think it's so important to how we like move through the world and, and also just how we feel about ourselves while we're crushing it at work. Absolutely.
Jackie Ferguson: That's right. Roxanne.
Absolutely. All right. So.
As Roxanne mentioned, our world is becoming more diverse. Whether, you know, you're an organizational leader or a marketer, a writer, or a sales professional, you're an HR, you're an administrative assistant, a hotel clerk. Anything that you do, every role, every industry has to make the shift because of our changing demographic.
Right. And developing a growth mindset is one that understands the trends, right? Not the trends in what's popular right now, but how our society is shifting in how they think and how they behave. And so understanding how to develop a growth mindset is so important and that is so related to inclusive language because that's something that you can do on your own very quickly and make that shift.
One of the examples that I love to use about a growth mindset, uh, with regard. To diversity, equity and inclusion, and the the changes that are occurring in our, our society is the Blockbuster to Netflix example. And I don't know about you, but if you are a, a Gen Xer like myself, I spent a lot of Friday nights in Blockbuster video, getting my, you know, two new releases and my popcorn and it was hard to imagine that that would not be the way we spent our Friday nights.
Enter Netflix, right? A disruptor. And Netflix, for those of you who don't know, this story came to Blockbuster and they were laughed out of a conference room, because Blockbuster didn't believe that the demographics were shifting in how we wanted to watch movies. And, I don't know about any of you, but I cannot recall where my Blockbuster card is, but I certainly know how to access Netflix. Right.
And so, as you think about business, no matter what business you're in, especially if you're an organizational leader, that growth mindset is so important, in making sure that you have not only successful business, but sustainable business and this growth mindset is important to that. Keep that in mind as we go through some of these inclusive language best practices.
Roxanne Bellamy: If you have started your TDM journey or your inclusive language journey you may recognize these rules of inclusive language. These are our six core guidelines. and I wanna walk through these first, um, and everything else we say after this kind of comes back to these sixcore guidelines.
The first one is to put people first. Putting people first, not only helps you focus on the person, but also sort of, uh, grammatically shift your own word habits to, um, continue focusing on the person and not their characteristics. So some examples of that are a person with disabilities. Jackie, what can you think of that are like the most core person with.
Jackie Ferguson: Sure. You know, I would say, you wanna say a woman who is transgender, right. Always start with a person first and that the descriptor second. A man who is blind. And then Roxanne, you really hit a point that I wanna take just a moment with is only mention those characteristics, like gender, sexual orientation, religion, racial group, or ability when it's relevant to the discussion. My woman doctor is usually never appropriate.
Roxanne Bellamy: Yeah, that one? Uh, that one slides up, I think a little often. Um, my husband and I were recently talking about people who are experiencing homelessness and that shift in language, I think is a really cool example because putting a person first, right.
And then saying a person who is experiencing this other thing really acknowledges the complexity and the fullness of human identity. Every person on this webinar is about 200 different things to different people. We have different identities, we have different cultural markers, things we're proud of, things we're not really proud of and acknowledging the mix of those is the core of the put people first rule. So you are a person first and then all of these other things are different aspects of your identity.
Jackie Ferguson: I just wanted to say one thing about what you just said and, and that's experiencing homelessness right, versus homeless, because it's not a steady state. It's not necessarily a forever state. Right. Mm-hmm, , there's hope in that. And so I just wanted to point that out. I love that example, Roxanne.
Roxanne Bellamy: I love it too. The second role is to use universal phrases. Um, this is just a real good reminder to avoid idioms, industry jargon and acronyms that can exclude peop exclude people who don't have specialized knowledge of a particular subject matter.
And the key to these is that they impede effective communication often because you, you may not realize that your point's not landing. Many idioms don't translate well from country to country, region to region, generation to generation, I think. So really getting back to literal language, it is an important part of inclusive language. And, and this one I will say was the hardest. and continues to probably be the hardest for me, because a lot of the colloquial phrases that slip into my language are so deeply ingrained that I don't see them until someone tells me, I don't really know what that means.
So a good example is we, the classic one we use at The Diversity Movement is saying that something's a home run. Well, mm-hmm, baseball may not be a universal, uh, language. Sorry for baseball fans out there, but one that's more close to home I think is that I often say, um, level the playing field and have been questioning recently if that's universal enough or if that metaphor confuses people.
Jackie Ferguson: That's a great example, Roxanne, and you know, one thing to point out is, and we'll get into this a little bit later, but ask those questions, right. Have those conversations, because sometimes another perspective helps you navigate whether that's something you should use or not. So if you've got great partners that are also practicing inclusive language, uh, that's a great thing to do.
Roxanne Bellamy: The third rule is to recognize the impact of mental health language using mental health terms like bipolar, PTSD, I'm gonna do the thing I just said, right? I just used a acronym without spelling it out for you, post-traumatic stress disorder. um, OCD, ADHD, these sort of colloquial references to real mental health conditions, not only underplays them and minimizes them, but continues the stigma around mental health conditions and often what we're doing when we use these mental health terms so commonly is that we are using them in a derogatory sense, or we are simply equating them with an everyday mood, a, uh, a sort of feeling that we're having at the moment.
I think depressed is a really common one. It's probably the most one common one I hear is that if you're feeling a bit sad, you'll say I'm real depressed today. Uh, and I think, I mean, that exaggeration is, is pretty every day. Mm-hmm any other great examples, Jackie?
Jackie Ferguson: You know, I, I think you, you hit it on the head Roxanne. It's just important to be mindful of the fact that you don't want to substitute real mental health conditions with everyday behaviors or feelings. I think that's right. I would say next is using, uh, gender neutral language. So this is one that I personally struggled with as a Northeasterner we say hi guys all the time as a greeting, that's not gender neutral, right? We wanna recognize the fact that there are not only two genders, but gender is a sphere, right? And there are lots of points on this gender sphere where people can identify. And so using gendered language is something that we wanna avoid.
So, hi guys, not, uh, inclusive. For those of you who are in the south, y'all is very inclusive. So please continue to use y'all. For those of you just to shout out to my, my parents who are happen to be from Pittsburgh, Yins is also super inclusive. So I, I love to share that as well. But you know, if you're thinking about gendered, uh, language, uh, saying, ladies and gentlemen, right?
We wanna say everyone, if you're thinking about boys and girls, you wanna say children, or instead of brothers and sisters siblings, right? Because you wanna be open to the fact that there are more than, than two genders and there's not a dominant gender. Right. We wanna be respectful and, and appreciative of all the gender identities that are out there.
The next is be thoughtful about the imagery you use. Right? So when we think about old westerns, you know, very often the hero is in the white hat and the villain is in the black hat, right? So using words like black or dark or blind, even symbolically to represent negative concepts is something that you don't wanna do and you wanna be aware of. You know, it was a, a, a dark day or they have a black heart, you know, those are super negative. You don't wanna use those. Roxanne. Anything else to add to those two before I move on to the last one?
Roxanne Bellamy: I wanted, I guess, as a writer, I wanted to say that, um, being thoughtful about imagery, uh, and using universal phrases, they, they have a parallel, which is that at first, for me, they felt like a removal of metaphors from language. And that's hard, right? As a person who, who just really loves metaphors and, and beautiful language. And I think the challenge there is really taking a moment with yourself to say like, well, this is kind of a lazy metaphor maybe. And what else can I come up with that's that's more true, that's more relevant and that doesn't carry those connotations that hurt people.
Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely, and then the last rule of inclusive language is ask if you're not sure, so inclusive language as we've already alluded to, and we'll get into a little bit more it's nuanced and it changes over time. So if you're not sure, ask. Most people are super willing to walk you through language that makes them feel respected and valued. And so ask, it's okay. For example, don't assume a person's pronouns. You wanna ask what are your pronouns? But it's so important that, again, this is a, this is a practice. This is a learning journey, and it's so important that we're willing to be vulnerable and ask those questions that we have so that we can learn the right way to approach situations.
All right. Roxanne, let's get into some of the, say this, not that. I'll start with the things that you shouldn't say, and if you'll correct me on those things that we should say instead.
Sounds good. All right, let's do it.
Again, we've got here, gender language, right, man the booth, mankind, manmade, you guys. And again, that was, that was one that I struggled with. Policeman, fireman, instead of saying that Roxanne, what should we say?
Roxanne Bellamy: Staff the booth, humankind, oh, humankind, what a beautiful word. Made by hand, friends, colleagues, everyone, and all to replace you guys. And I'll tell you, this is a really hard one to replace for lots of us. Um, if you get it right, 60% of the time at first, you're crushing it and then work your way up from there. And police officer, firefighter, your postal worker, all of those genderless words for the same tasks.
Yeah. You wanna move us into mental health language?
Jackie Ferguson: Yes, let's do it. So we talked a little bit about this. OCD, bipolar, schizo, we don't wanna say words like that again, because you know, you're taking real mental health diagnosis and applying them to everyday language. We don't wanna do that.
Roxanne Bellamy: And those ones are pretty easy to replace with really specific adjectives. So a person might be finicky, they might be really neat, organized, temperamental, inconsistent.
Jackie Ferguson: Next is, you know, one that I'm sure we've all committed at some point, right? When you skip breakfast, you say, oh, I'm starving, or when, you know, you're counting the days right, to the paycheck comes and, and certainly we've all, especially in our our younger years have been in that position right, and you say I'm broke. But those are actually terms that we don't wanna use because people that have really been in situations of you know, food insecurity or poverty, you might be triggering something there for that, that you didn't intend to. And so, you know, just be thoughtful about the way that you phrase that. Roxanne, can you share some of the ways that we should say that we're hungry?
Roxanne Bellamy: Yeah. These ones, again, returning to the literal. I'm hungry. And, and I'm depressed is a, a good example of that one too. Just say I feel down today, I feel a little sad.
Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. And then finally, what we have here are terms around people with disabilities. So we don't wanna say handicapped or crippled or suffers from, which sometimes we think that's a better term. It's not. Afflicted with, right, we wanna not say a victim of right, were really putting someone in a position where that's how we're defining them and certainly people with disabilities, that's only one aspect of their identity, right?
There's so many other amazing things and, and parts of who they are that we don't wanna box them into this, you know, This person is afflicted with or suffers from right. Invalid, lame deformed. We don't wanna say that, uh, Roxanne share with us some of the things we should say. I.
Roxanne Bellamy: Yeah, a person with a disability, uh, people with disabilities. And again, back to literal and specific, a person who uses a wheelchair, a person who uses leg braces, a person who is blind, a person who is deaf, a person who is hard of hearing. Accessible parking is probably my, one of my favorite takeaways from learning inclusive language. I love the term accessible parking now, um, or parking for people with disabilities. It's upfront. It's not handicapped. Let's get away from that word.
Jackie Ferguson: All right. So let's talk about how to start practicing inclusive language. And, you know, one of the things that we've said throughout is start to ask questions, right? So there are questions that you can ask of yourself and questions that you can ask of others.
The most important part of inclusive language and and the practice of inclusive language is to ask those questions again, of yourself as a learner and of others as a leader or an ally. And so the questions that you can ask yourself is, you know, first, what does that mean? Right. Sometimes we learn things when we're in elementary school, right.
And those, those words or phrases carry on into our adulthood, but we need to stop and say, okay, wait a second. Where does that come from? Or what does that mean? And then the next one is. What is the historical context of this word, right? That's something we often don't think about. but doing a little digging and, and Google is great for that, right?
Where, where does this phrase come from? Because you wanna make sure that you're not using phrases that can make people feel excluded. Right? And then the, the third is, is this overstating a condition? We talked about that with some of the mental health language that we discussed as and then questions to ask others, right.
Again, what does that mean? So if you've got a friend that says something, not inclusive, ask them, you know, and, and certainly I've been in this situation, I've, I've had this occur and sometimes just asking what does that mean? Right. It allows them to step back and think about that phrase or that word.
And, you know, very often that's all it takes for that person to say, you know, Probably was not the right way to say that. So something as simple as what does that mean can really change the conversation and allow you to step up as an ally for others as well. And, you know, can you explain how that's relevant to the point?
Right, and again, I use the, the example of woman doctor, right? If her being a woman isn't relative to her care as a physician, you don't need to say it. So again, you wanna make sure that you're, stepping in and stepping up and, and asking those questions that allow others to start to practice inclusive language as well.
And then finally, you know, is there a more inclusive way to phrase that, and that's something Roxanne, I know you can attest to, we ask that all the time. And just asking that question, again so many times with the things that, that we do, the things that we say, the way that we're thinking about things even is because we're moving so quickly through our day and, and through our week, and sometimes just taking the opportunities to take a pause.
Right. And think about what that phrase means or what that word means can help us be more inclusive in our language. So again, ask those questions of yourself, ask those questions of others. And, and you'll be, on your way to practicing inclusive language in the best way.
Inclusive language skills help you communicate more effectively and build relationships where people feel safe, respected and seen personally and professionally, but, sometimes, it can be difficult to know the right thing to say. In this bonus episode, we’re sharing our top tips for inclusive language that you can put into practice right away.
No matter who you are or the work you do, your word choices matter. Whether you are a business owner interacting with customers; an executive leading employees with diverse backgrounds; a marketer, a speaker, or a writer who communicates for a living, inclusive language matters to your personal and professional success.
The Inclusive Language Handbook is your reference guide to better communication. Gain access to industry-specific guidance, workbook exercises, and hundreds of inclusive alternatives to alienating words and phrases. Don’t miss out on what industry leaders are calling a “must-read” and their “go-to resource.” Visit theinclusivelanguagehandbook.
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