It’s also important to realize and accept that we may not get it right all the time. As a society, we’re experiencing rapid social change and a heightened awareness of past behavior that may have been thoughtless. Unfortunately, there’s no switch we can flip and suddenly be inclusive. It’s a process, and we need to be willing to engage in that process.
As you’re discussing your company’s approach to communications that are more inclusive, you might give some thought to these five suggestions:
Show diversity in your photography
Before you address the specific words you choose, consider the images you’re using to represent employees. It would be nice to move beyond the cliché formula of group shots that include a bunch of cis white males with the obligatory woman and token person of color in the mix. Try using individual shots of employees that represent diversity. For instance, when you need to show one employee at a computer, try using a woman who’s using a wheelchair, or a Sikh man in a turban or an employee who’s near retirement age.
Introduce they/them pronouns
Consider using “they” as your default instead of “he” or “she” when you’re talking about a theoretical employee, such as in policy guides, open enrollment materials or other communications that address the employee population in general. If you’ve been making an effort to arbitrarily alternate between he/him and she/ her, you might find it cleaner and easier to stick with they/them. And when you’re referring to a specific employee, don’t be shy about asking them what pronouns they prefer.
Be sensitive to evolving language
Do you refer to someone as paraplegic, or a person with paraplegia? Should you capitalize the word Black? Cultivate an awareness of changing norms and preferences, and have a process for deciding when to incorporate them into your internal communications. Words are powerful, and although one person may not feel strongly about a certain reference, another could be deeply offended. On the other hand, adapting to new preferences can help employees feel seen and more comfortable bringing their whole selves to work.
Weave inclusivity into everything
If you have an I&D newsletter or a regular feature in your employee publication or on your intranet devoted to diversity, that’s great. But to truly be inclusive, you wouldn’t need to provide I&D its own specific box. The goal would be to one day look at the entire scope of internal communications and see a reflection of true inclusivity. An important step along the journey to that place is to bring an awareness of the need for inclusivity to all your channels and content and begin making changes that bring you closer to that goal.
When in doubt, ask
What constitutes inclusivity is a dynamic state, and we’re a long way from a world where none of our accepted language makes anyone feel uncomfortable. Be willing to be corrected or challenged, and open to the ongoing conversation of how we can improve in this area. You might think about involving your Employee Resource Groups, if you have them, and ask them for guidance. The veterans group can help you with language around PTSD and the LGBTQ+ group could have advice on speaking about gender identity.