A Guide to Implement Gender Inclusive Language in the Workplace

As we enter 2021, we have to make sure that greater attention is given to gender inclusivity in workplaces which will help promote a healthy work environment and diversity. The everyday language that we have used for so long might exclude different backgrounds, genders of people without our knowledge because we are so used to it.

However, it is time to embrace inclusive and newer ways to communicate with each other by leaving behind male-centric or cisgender-centric terms which mostly impacts employees negatively. This article will guide you to get rid of negative stereotypes about one’s physical ability, mental health and/or non-traditional family structures and promote inclusive communication, thus helping you to build a healthier work environment.

What is inclusive language, Why does inclusive language matter and how can it be useful in encouraging diversity at work?

Due to unawareness, our everyday language has evolved to be one through which we leave out entire groups of people. Words related to career is mostly male gendered, for example, “policeman”, “congressman”, “salesman” etc. we can avoid such words by using gender-neutral terms like police, congressperson, salesperson etc. Phrases like “mum and dad” might seem innocuous but is deeply rooted in our belief of opposite-sex parents.

Heteronormative phrasing is problematic in the sense that they fail to acknowledge that all households might not have opposite-sex parents or follow the “traditional” gender roles at home. This is where inclusive language comes into the picture. Inclusive language is a language by which we avoid using words and phrases that exclude specific groups of people.

The first step to using inclusive language is broadening your perspective. Language has the power to affect not only the listener but also the speaker. Thus, the initiative to use inclusive language is by training new circuits in the brains and learning to be more aware of how certain kinds of language can help create an inclusive supportive work environment. Then ‘no one feels like they are excluded’.

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Why is gender neutral language important?

An approximate 90% of transgender folks have been through harassment and mistreatment at work. Around 47% of workers have had to experience an adverse job outcome just because they are transgender.

This statistic includes –
i) 44% trans folks were not given the job and their jobs were passed over,
ii) 23% were not given promotion like their peers,
iii) 26% were fired from their jobs because of their gender.

With this kind of environment at the workplace, we are not only being exclusive but also creating a hostile workspace. As we enter 2021 with new resolutions and goals, gender-inclusivity is in the list of many workplaces.

Employers are aiming at eradicating any kind of in-house discrimination and/or bias because whether they are intentional or not, the kind of language that a company uses sets the tone for its employees.

There are several studies which say that a positive application of inclusive language has had a positive effect on employees and created a better outcome.

The term “gender-inclusive” doesn’t just mean hiring more women and offering equal pay but goes way beyond that. It is about treating every employee equally despite their orientation and sexuality, with kindness. It is about embracing all kinds of perspectives of all employees regardless of their gender. The motive of an inclusive workspace should not just be an economic imperative but should be as much of a moral or a social one.

Methods of inclusive language – Gender and Pronouns

You might end up inadvertently using language which can make the people around you uncomfortable. So, it is important that we learn the importance of the usage of gender-inclusive language, to ensure that all your co-workers, customers, clients or any other professional contacts are treated with the utmost respect.

Let us take an example. You are sitting with all your co-workers and having a light chat around the coffee machine when a guy named Sid suddenly says, “you guys should have been present to watch Jeet give this great speech while we were manning the conference that day. It was so moving and thoughtful!”

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It might sound very normal to you, except it isn’t. Read the sentences again and try to figure out how Sid might have unintentionally made your co-workers feel excluded or uncomfortable.

Even though he did not mean to cause any kind of distress or unease, such a normal sentence has done exactly that without his knowledge due to unawareness.

Firstly, he has referred to a mixed group as “you guys” and has used a gendered term “manning” instead of just going for something gender-neutral like “staffing”.

An integral part of helping employees thrive is creating a space where every individual feels they can bring their full selves to work.

—Elden Seropian

Instead of creating a hostile environment at your workplace, it is necessary that you learn the importance of gender-neutral language at work where there are people of different pronouns and types.

Make sure that you treat everybody equally and educate your colleagues about the gender-inclusive language if they are not aware yet. Together we can strive to make the world a safe space for everybody.

Avoid assumptions when it comes to pronouns

Sometimes we are so habituated to do something, we do not even realise that we doing it – because it is ingrained in us. A lot of us are so used to looking at a person and categorising them into “he” or “she” – unconsciously – like an instinct.

However, a person’s name, ways of clothing or any other form of outward signals necessarily are not indicators of their pronouns, that is, how the person identifies. This is not just applicable for transgender folks but for any kind of gender identity.

Misgendering means when somebody is referred to in a way which assumes the person’s gender and does not correctly reflect the gender that the person identifies with.

Nobody likes to be misgendered as it is hurtful and quite naturally, disrespectful. To avoid such a situation, it is always safe to ask the person their preferred pronouns before referring them in conversations. 

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What are some examples of effective inclusive communication language?

We agree that some habits are really hard to break. So, if you are even remotely like us and have tried to change a language pattern only to fall back into old habits atleast a few times – this is a list of some super quick substitutive language for some common situations which will help you to practice inclusive language at workplace.

Instead of: Guys (or women) when referring to people overall
You can use: Folks, people, you all, y’all, teammates

Instead of: Girls (while referring to adults)
You can use: Women

Instead of: Manpower, man hours
You can use: Workforce, personnel, workers, team

Instead of: Chairman, foreman
You can use: Chairperson, chair, moderator, discussion leader

Instead of: Wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends
You can use: Spouses/partners

Instead of: mothering, fathering
You can use: Parenting

Instead of: Normal
You can use: Typical

(Since there is an inherent bias in using a group as a standard of judgement for other groups. The usage of the word “normal” can stigmatise people who are different which implies that they are abnormal)

You can use: Marginalized groups or underrepresented groups
Instead of : Minorities

(Since all marginalised groups are not minorities, so a broader a term should be used which is inclusive of other factors other than gender and race) 

Conclusion:

Just like most other things, our intentions matter – quite a lot. When we choose to be intentionally inclusive with our language, we are taking a step forward to foster an environment is friendly and intentionally inclusive.

Some missteps on the way are inevitable but if you are humble and keep maintaining your intentionality, it won’t be long before you see your company taking huge steps forward. We shall conclude by remembering Maya Angelou’s words saying “When you know better, do better.”

Share this post with your colleagues if you feel this guide will help you implement an effective inclusive communicative language in the workplace.

Manaswini

I’m a student of Sociology and Economics. Writing has always been a hobby - especially musings and poetry. Professional procrastinator!

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