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Communication is only one aspect of your organization’s culture and how employees experience it. However, using inclusive language consistently and pervasively sends a strong message that inclusivity is a value of your organization. Your employees will notice, and combined with a supportive environment, you’ll help them feel they can be their authentic selves in the workplace.
This is not about being politically correct. “Put simply, inclusive language is effective language–it is respectful, accurate and relevant to all,” as the Diversity Council Australia says in their Words at Work guide.
Here are three ways to make your employee communications more inclusive.
Changing long-held habits takes time. Start with some basic guidelines as you communicate with employees. You can always add to your list over time as you learn more:
The language you use in newsletters and emails to employees is important, but you also need to be sure the rest of your documents, systems, and tools are in sync. If an employee clicks through your inclusively-worded email and finds a document containing biased language, the disconnect can be disappointing.
Policies, handbooks, and other human resources documents tend to have a long shelf-life. They may last for many years with no need for changes from a technical or compliance perspective. However, they could include outdated language. Now is a great time to take a fresh look and update language based on inclusive principals. When it comes to policies, there may be more to review than language. A good example of this could be your dress code. It may unintentionally discriminate based on gender/gender identity, religion, race, or ability.
The language on forms is usually minimal or legally required. When it comes to ensuring that forms are inclusive, it’s more about the options you provide and not asking for information you don’t really need.
Most of us moved away from using “husband/wife” to “spouse” or “partner” some time ago. But consider taking the next step by using examples in benefits materials that illustrate different types of families. Do your wellness materials assume everyone can run or go to the gym? Include examples with people of different abilities and health statuses doing what they can to improve their health. Examine your documents for terms such as “grandfathered” (which both sounds gendered and has a racist origin) or “man hours” and replace them with neutral terminology. Refer to parental leave, not maternity and paternity leave.
The wording you use in job postings and descriptions can impact the diversity of your teams. You want your posting to appeal to as wide a group of qualified candidates as possible, but the language you use could unintentionally discourage certain qualified candidates from applying. Instead, you want candidates to picture themselves working at your organization.
In summary, your employee communications convey more than your key messages–there’s an undercurrent that comes through loud and clear to certain members of your audience that is expressed through the words you choose. Make sure your documents say what you want them to say at both the explicit and implicit levels. While communications are just one part of creating a more inclusive workplace, they can be a powerful tool. You don’t have to be an expert to think differently about the words on the page. We’re on a journey and you can start today by taking a first step.