Close Icon
CareerCircle Logo


Job Search & More

How To Embrace Inclusive Language in the Workplace

Author profile picture
Staff Writer
Facebook iconTwitter iconLinkedin icon
illustrated image of a black man talking to a redhaired woman on a blue background

Inclusive language is about more than not offending people. It’s about taking an active role in making people feel welcome and included in the workplace.

Transitioning to a more inclusive way of speaking may feel daunting, but with a few changes you can make an impact.

What Is Inclusive Language?

Inclusive language is using words that aim to include people in a statement, rather than exclude them. It is used to avoid bias and discrimination against people based on their sex, gender, race, ability, etc.

For example, if you’re writing a job posting that reads, “The best candidate for this role is a proficient Microsoft Word user and he or she should feel comfortable training others,” that is an example of non-inclusive language. “He or she” doesn’t capture the full breadth of human pronouns. 

In order to write inclusively, you would update the sentence to “The best candidate for this role is a proficient Microsoft Word user and they should feel comfortable training others.”

Creating a culture of inclusive language also often moves beyond protected identities, like gender and race. It can mean avoiding things like jargon or slang that may not be known by everyone on the team to avoid making anyone feel excluded.

How To Embrace Inclusive Language in the Workplace

Understand the Difference Between Intent and Impact

When it comes to inclusive language, it’s important to understand that intent and impact are two different things. 

While it may not have been your intent to hurt someone by saying that you’re “just so OCD” about the order of company files, the impact is that the person on your team who recently got diagnosed with OCD is feeling uncomfortable.

When we’re learning a new skill it can feel uncomfortable when you get told that something you said hurt someone. Understanding that many language mistakes come from an unintended impact, not from malicious intent, can help you understand and correct those mistakes with the right attitude.

Create a Company Acronym and Inclusive Language Guide

Have you ever considered the acronyms that you use everyday as an exclusive language? 

Using acronyms like CTA, YTD, EOD, or jargon and terms like “boil the ocean,” “over the wall,” or “low-hanging fruit” can feel like a whole different language to someone who isn’t familiar with them.

As part of your onboarding process, consider putting together a guide to the acronyms and jargon most commonly used at your organization. It’s an easy way to make your language more inclusive and ensure that no one walks away from a meeting more confused.

For some companies, having a list of non-inclusive terms and their more inclusive alternatives can help make inclusive language even easier to embrace. Here are a few common ones, and follow us on LinkedIn as we share more diversity tips!

Remove Gendered Terminology From Job Postings

Most companies have shifted to using the gender-neutral “they” pronoun in their job postings which is an incredible first step. If your team hasn’t yet, now is the time. It’s one of the simplest changes to make and it has a huge impact on the people applying.

To take it a step further consider how the terms you use may have a gendered bias.

While individual words in English may not have a gender, they can have a gendered tone to them. Consider how terms like ruthless and aggressive feel versus collaborative or dependable and how using each could affect who applies to your roles.

Acknowledge the Need for Nuance

Inclusivity relies on a balance of equality and equity. As an organization, you need to be able to give people what they need to feel welcomed and successful, while still creating an equal expectation amongst your company.

Take people-first language for example.

While people-first language (terms like “person with autism”) was written into law in the Americans with Disabilities Act, in recent years, some in the disability community have voiced their preference for identity-first language (terms like “autistic person”).

When you are creating your inclusive language guide, open the conversation publicly to allow everyone’s voice (especially those within the communities you’re referencing) to be heard before making a final call. But remember that you will likely have some employees who use different terms to refer to themselves and there isn’t anything wrong with that. 

Be Ready To Make Mistakes and Know How To Correct Them

Adopting inclusive language is all about learning together and holding each other accountable. You’re going to make mistakes and that’s okay, what matters is how you face them.

When you’ve said something that has caused offense:

  • Recognize and own up to your mistake and apologize. Don’t spend too long diving into your apology as that can turn the attention towards making people feel obligated to say, “It’s okay” when, in reality, it’s not.
  • Thank the person who raised their concerns to you for taking the time to educate you. Shifting directly from the apology to gratitude for the education helps to get the conversation on track.
  • Make a plan to do better in the future. You can do this part internally, but consider where your mistake came from and what words you can use instead in the future. 

Here’s an example to use as a template: “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that term was offensive, so thank you for taking the time to correct and educate me. I’ll do better in the future.”

When you hear something non-inclusive:

  • Be careful with calling someone out in front of a room of people. This can feel overwhelming at first, so consider talking to the person privately. As the culture of your company changes, there’s nothing wrong with taking the appropriate action to correct in public.
  • Assume good intent. Chances are the person didn’t make the mistake on purpose, so approaching the correction as a judgment could put people on the defensive and no one grows when they’re focused on defending themselves.
  • Call them in rather than calling them out. Consider sharing some resources with them to learn more.
  • If they continue to use exclusive language, it’s likely they aren’t the only one making these mistakes so it could be a good opportunity for the organization to learn together. You can always talk with your manager about getting some more training on the calendar.

Here’s an example to use as a template: “I’m sure it wasn’t your intent, but ‘crazy’ is often used as an insult and we should aim to use words like that less. I like to use ‘wild’’ instead, but I’m always looking for more alternatives if you find any others!”

It’s important to remember that using inclusive language in the workplace isn’t about reaching a finish line. It’s a journey where people learn and grow together, so take your time to make these cultural changes. 

Approach these changes with flexibility and compassion as you continue to learn and it won’t be long before your team feels more included.