Saying What You Mean: The Importance of Inclusive Language

4 minute read

Where do you feel welcomed, valued, and empowered? I wonder how many of us can honestly answer, ‘the workplace.’ 

If you can answer as such, read on. If you can’t, read on. It is our shared responsibility to ensure that all of our team members would feel confident answering that question with ‘the workplace.’ At the root of that question is inclusion. 

When it comes to making the workplace an equitable environment, there’s one surprisingly easy place to start ― language. Language is a changemaker we all get to leverage ― on our teams, in our workplace, and in our community. Language allows us to respect and understand each other, placing our humanity front and center.

Diversity and inclusion work should not be something we do to check a box ― it should be a lifestyle. There is danger in focusing on diversity and forgetting inclusion and equity. Diversity is getting a seat at the dinner table. Inclusion is being given a meal. Equity is being given the tools to eat with your peers.  

An integral part of getting better every day is taking time to reflect on our habits, and recognizing behaviors that need pruning. As we continue to foreground diversity and inclusion efforts, we should take a closer look at the language we bring to the conversation. 

We grew up hearing this statement: “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” I think we’ve all learned that this is far from the truth. Words can hurt, they can exclude, and they can close doors. This is why it’s important to promote inclusive language in the workplace. Inclusive language acknowledges the diversity around us and helps convey respect to all people. It helps us practice sensitivity to differences that we have amongst each other and promote equality.

Alright, enough talk about… talk. Let’s hit you with some examples: 

*Words like ‘ghetto’ and ‘retarded’ have very real historical meanings — meanings which slang can co-opt to carry and perpetuate hateful assumptions. ‘Saying what you mean’ is as simple as describing what you see or explaining how you feel without using discrimination or stereotypes to get your point across.

What can we do to fix this?

I’m glad you asked! A diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace starts with being aware of the language you use, owning it, and being intentional about using inclusive language. Repetition facilitates retention. 

Let’s steal some pointers from Daniel Kahnerman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” Kahnerman’s research tells us that there are two different ways that our brains form thoughts:

System 1 continuously generates suggestions for System 2, which creates impressions, intuitions, intentions, or feelings. Kahnerman argues that we spend 95% of our time in System 1. Therefore, we tend to do things or say things without logically thinking them through. 

At Red Ventures, we love to move fast ― but let’s slow down where it counts and become more aware of what we say to help cultivate a more inclusive environment. Slow down, and let System 2 take control.

These changes won’t happen overnight ― they’re going to take practice and intention. Let’s take the first step together and focus on awareness and accountability. We believe in being great people to work with, and how we communicate with our peers lies at the core of that commitment. 

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About the Author:

Carlo Moore

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