Davidson is a certified professional trainer, business coach and management consultant.
Driven by passion, he is an engaging and versatile presenter with over 20 years of experience in the training industry. Over the course of his career, he has trained over 1,000 companies comprising start-ups, SMEs, MNCs, government agencies and others all over Southeast Asia.
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Words Matter: Why you Should Use Inclusive Language
In this week’s edition, I want to share how using inclusive language will help improve your writing.
Inclusive language avoids biases, slang, or expressions that discriminate against gender, language, culture, religion, race, ability, family structure, appearance, marital status, sexuality, origin, and socioeconomic status.
It is writing that is free from words, phrases or tones that reflect prejudiced and stereotypical views of people or groups. It is language that does not intentionally or accidentally exclude people from being part of a group. With inclusive language, we aim for communication that includes all people, hence inclusive.
Writing in an impartial way also allows you to connect with your audience. It is a language that shows the writer (or speaker for that matter) is sensitive, respectful, and open-minded towards all people using terms (or language) that are encouraging, accurate, and unbiased.
Inclusive language, sometimes labelled as ‘political correctness’, is an attempt to address the inequality in written and spoken language. Instead of assuming your audience is all the same, inclusive language allows you embrace diversity and to avoid assumptions that could otherwise harm people and your relationship with them.
It is about opening our minds to the realities of life as we work, live, and play among men and women of all ages and backgrounds. Our writing needs to reflect this reality; hence we should ensure that our language is inclusive rather than restrictive; open rather than closed.
For example, do not make all nurses and administrative professionals “she,” nor all doctors and senior executives “he.” We can get very caught up in gender and slow down one’s reading when we write “he/she, s/he, he and/or she”.
Make a conscious effort to use language that is inclusive
One straightforward way to eliminate gender bias is to modify the sentence in the plural:
Exclusive: “Each employee should shut off his computer before leaving.”
Inclusive: “Employees should shut off their computers before leaving.”
Another possibility is to delete the personal pronoun:
Exclusive: “If an employee is late, notify his immediate supervisor.”
Inclusive: “If an employee is late, notify the immediate supervisor.”
Using inclusive language is a simple yet a powerful way to stop the spreading of what can otherwise be harmful misinformation. It also creates an environment in which everyone feels respected and safe.
Here are some common terms and their inclusive alternatives:
Humanity / Humankind
Man on the street
Sporting / Fair play
Man hours / Man days
Work hours / Workdays
Manning the help desk
Tending the help desk
May the best man win
May the best person win
Steward / Stewardess
Waiter / Waitress
Actor / Actress
Manager / Manageress
Inclusive language goes beyond just gender
Up to this point, we have only discussed gender as inclusive language. Note that gender inclusivity, is just one category of inclusive language. Inclusive language is more than that. The word that comes to mind is diversity.
Your writing must reflect that you have considered diversity, and that you make people feel included regardless of age, culture, race, religion, geographical location, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, marital status, and appearance.
Writers are urged to practice cultural sensitivity and respect when writing. Sometimes, what was intended to be humorous or playful may be offensive to others.
We encourage all writers to consider the possible reactions of their audience when writing. One way to do that is to include content that is inclusive and respectful. Unless you are prepared to justify your statements, even phrases like “Women are more polite than men”, or “Asians tend to score well on standardised tests”, can suggest that the writer is stereotyping.
Terminology is constantly evolving. It is the writer’s duty to keep abreast of new words, concepts, and trends, recent or otherwise. Build up a list of terms that include expressions to avoid and words to incorporate (or not) into your vocabulary.
Remember that even names of some cities and countries have changed over the years. For instance, Burma is now known as Myanmar, and Siam is known as Thailand. Somehow, we still find some writers using the old or outdated names.
Certain idioms (more on in my next article), industry jargon and acronyms may also hinder effective communication in some cases, especially if the reader has no specialised knowledge in an area. This is particularly important because by using it, it excludes certain people who may not understand these terminologies.
Start by changing the scripts for all communication for inclusivity – this includes email, all documents, social media, and marketing materials in your organisation. It takes practice and time to change the typical ways of writing.