Using Inclusive Language in the Workplace

Path to PayTech

Article written by Jo Homann, PayTech Project Manager

In today’s world, where diversity and inclusivity are at the forefront of many organizations, it’s essential to understand the importance of respecting people’s gender identities and using the correct pronouns. In this post, we’ll explore the significance of using proper pronouns, discuss the common mistakes, and provide practical tips on how to use pronouns appropriately in the workplace. So, whether you’re an employee, manager, or business owner, this post is for you. Let’s dive in!

We use pronouns and gendered language every day. But have you stopped to think lately about how assumptions or certain phrases can be exclusionary? Gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language are terms with the aim to avoid bias toward a specific sex or gender. Another common term you may have heard is non-binary. Non-binary is defined as “a gender identity which falls outside of the gender binary, meaning an individual does not identify as strictly female or male”. According to studies compiled by the Williams Institute, there are approximately 1.2 million adults in the United States who identify as nonbinary.1

“Ladies and gentlemen,” and “you guys,” are two examples of common gendered phrases. Alternatively, the phrases “gentle people” or “you all” or “folks” can be used to be inclusive.2

Imagine being called the wrong name repeatedly even after correcting someone. Or being mistaken for someone you aren’t. Chances are the feelings that are invoked aren’t positive. This can happen when we assume someone’s pronouns based on their name and/or profession or if we use gender-specific language.

To avoid assuming, we can use an individual’s name or the gender-neutral pronouns they/them. It’s also best practice to have your own pronouns in your signature line, as well as stating them when you introduce yourself. This helps create an inclusive and safe environment for people to feel respected, seen and heard. These are small habits that can have a big impact.

If someone does unintentionally use the wrong pronouns, they can pause, apologize, reaffirm the correct pronouns, and thank the individual for correcting them. The Trevor Project notes “intention is not impact” and “the best apology is one that doesn’t make excuses or invalidate the other person’s feelings”.3

Ever heard or used the term “businessman” or “policeman” or “stewardess” before? These are all examples of gendered titles. The Harvard Business Review points out that many terms “favor male involvement and symbolize male dominance, despite the availability of gender-neutral alternatives.”4 Instead, we can use inclusive, neutral terms like “businessperson,” “people in business,” “police officer,” and “flight attendant.” The Harvard Business Review also took a look at a study whose data showed a correlation between exclusive language strengthening faulty beliefs about gendered roles in the workplace 4. If we want to break gendered assumptions in the workplace, we need to be more aware of the language we use.

Other examples of exclusive language are the terms “stand-ups,” “whitelisting/ blacklisting,” “crazy,” and “senior moments.” These terms perpetuate negative and harmful stereotypes based on folks’ abilities, race, mental health, and age. Some of these terms people use without thinking about the origin or implications it might have for other folks.

The goal of using inclusive language and being mindful of pronouns is to create safe environments by simply being thoughtful of how we word things. Shifting away from traditional exclusive phrases may be difficult but is worth the effort to ensure all folks feel respected, seen, and heard.

If you’d like to learn more, please check out the following resources:

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