Words have meanings, and sometimes, we don’t use words and phrases correctly when addressing topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion. In the workplace, using the right words and phrases when talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion has a positive effect. Inclusive language helps build a stronger, safer work environment for everyone, and allows the entire team to feel it puts humanity at the core. Using non-inclusive language (or insensitive language) can make people feel like they’re not valued, and can discourage potential employees from even applying to a company.
A Deloitte Millennial Survey showed that 69% of employees working at organizations they see as diverse intend to stay with the organization for at least five years. The survey also showed that candidates often turn down opportunities as a result of non-inclusive language used in interviews. Research by McKinsey & Company similarly showed that employees who feel included are nearly three times more likely to feel excited by and committed to their organizations.
In order to establish a common vocabulary for inclusion topics, we’ve put together an evolving glossary of inclusive language terms and phrases to help us all learn how to speak about inclusion in the workplace. As we learn more on the topic, this glossary will change over time and be updated throughout the year to include up-to-date language terms.
Ableism – prejudiced thoughts and discrimination based on differences in mental and physical ability, typically by those without disabilities against people with a disability.
Able-bodied – used to describe someone who does not identify as having a disability. Some members of the disability community oppose its use, as it implies that all people with disabilities lack “able bodies” or the ability to use their bodies well. “Nondisabled,” “enabled,” or “people without disabilities” are often preferred terms.
Ageism – prejudiced thoughts and discrimination based on differences in age.
Ally – In common usage, a person who does not belong to a marginalized or disadvantaged group but champions individuals in that group and acts against oppression towards them. Anyone can be an ally.
Anti-racism – the commitment to actively combat racism and work to deconstruct systems of oppression in everyday life.
Bias – a positive or negative inclination towards a person, group, or community
Biological or assigned sex – Refers to the sex assigned to an individual at birth based on biology.
BIPOC – an acronym for Black, Indigenous, People of Color. Used to refer to non-white people, this term is often used in lieu of the term “People of Color” (POC) because it acknowledges that not all POC face equal levels of injustice and emphasizes the hardships that Black and Indigenous people have undergone. This acronym is widely used in the United States but has not been universally adopted. An alternative is to avoid acronyms; use specific language — for example “Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Asian and other people of color” as a broad term — and include additional descriptors when relevant.
Bystander – a person who is present at an inappropriate or offensive incident but does not take part.
Classism – prejudiced thoughts and discrimination based on differences in socioeconomic status.
Discrimination – the unjust or prejudicial treatment of people on the grounds of their race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, education, gender identity, ability, or other identities.
- the state of being diverse; variety
- the practice of including people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.
Equity – equal opportunity for all; a leveling of the playing field so all have the same opportunities.
Gender – a social construct based on the concepts of masculinity and femininity. Gender may or may not align with one’s sex, and may be expressed through one’s behavior and appearance.
Identity Group – a particular group, culture, or community with which an individual identifies or shares a sense of belonging. Individual agency is crucial for identity development; no person should be pressured to identify with any existing group, but instead have the freedom to self-identify on their own terms.
Implicit bias – (also known as unconscious bias) a negative association or attitude that unknowingly influences one’s judgement, decision-making, and behavior. An individual may not even be aware that such biases exist within themselves and the real-world implications that are consequentially created.
Inclusion – the practice of ensuring that people feel a sense of belonging and support from the organization.
Inclusive Language – words and phrases that include all potential audiences from all identity groups. (ex. “Chairman” excludes women and non-binary people whereas as Chair, Chairperson or “Mary will chair the meeting” are all inclusive or using they/them instead of him/her within articles and documents).
Intersectionality – the overlap or intersection between social categorizations such as race, class and gender, creating interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. In practice this approach suggests that oppressive institutions such as racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, etc. should not be examined in isolation from one another due to their interconnectivity.
LGBTQ – acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer. Use of LGBT or LGBTQ is best as an adjective and an umbrella term. Also expressed as LGBTQIA, to include allies and/or agender or with a + sign, as LGBTQ+, to include the full panoply of gender identities and sexual orientations.
Marginalization – (the term underrepresented is also commonly used) the placement of minority groups and cultures outside mainstream society. All that varies from the norm of the dominant culture is devalued and at times perceived as deviant and regressive.
Microaggression – an everyday action that indirectly, subtly, or unintentionally discriminates against members of a marginalized group. These may be verbal or nonverbal.
Micro-inequity – subtle, often unconscious, messages and behavior. It can appear as individuals who are overlooked, singled out or ignored and is based on characteristics such as race, gender, ability, etc. Micro-inequities can be conveyed through facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice/choice of words. The term was coined in 1973 by MIT professor Mary Rowe.
Non-binary – an adjective describing a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Non-binary people may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between, or as neither.
Performative Allyship – actions from a member of a non-marginalized group that appear to profess their solidarity and support of a marginalized group in a way that is not helpful or actively harms that group.
Personal Gender Pronouns (PGPs) – a set of pronouns that people ask others to use in reference to themselves, such as he/him/his, she/her/hers, or they/them/theirs.
Privilege – the unearned and unconscious social advantages an individual benefits from by belonging to an economic, racial or identity group.
Proximity Bias – the unconscious tendency to give preferential treatment to those immediately near you.
- A belief that race determines human traits and capabilities and that racial differences produce superiority of a particular race; behavior and attitudes that foster this belief.
- Systemic oppression of one or more racial groups to the socio-economic advantage of another.
Safe Space – an environment in which all individuals feel comfortable fully expressing themselves without fear of attack, ridicule, or persecution.
Sexism – prejudiced thoughts and discrimination based on differences in sex and/or gender
Systemic Bias – prejudice, bigotry, or unfairness directed towards marginalized groups through normalized practices within a society or organization.
Transitioning – the process of changing one’s gender presentation and/or physical characteristics to match one’s gender identity.
Upstander – a person who is present at an incident and intervenes to give support.
Personal pronouns usage
Personal pronouns are used to substitute a specific name, thing or place. In the English language, “he,” “she,” and “they” are common examples of pronouns used to refer to others. “They/them” are pronouns that can also be used to refer to a single person, not just a group of people. Personal pronouns can be part of an individual’s gender identity and expression, so using the right pronouns is a sign of respect. Pronouns do not necessary align with a person’s sex assigned at birth, so it matters what pronouns you use to talk about them.
If someone you know is transitioning, they may want to go by different pronouns, so using the right pronouns is a way for you to demonstrate your support for them. Intentionally calling someone by the wrong pronoun can be disrespectful because it shows that you do not recognize their gender identity.
If you are ever in doubt about what someone’s pronouns are, it is perfectly fine to ask. However, avoid asking what their “preferred pronouns” are or what they “would like to be called.” The simplest and safest thing is to ask them: What are your pronouns?
In a professional setting, you also could send an email out before a meeting, presentation, etc., asking participants to share their correct name and pronoun, if they wish to share that information. Make sure to be clear that if they wish to not share their pronoun, it’s okay to just share a name.
The Inclusive Future content on BlogHer is sponsored by Philip Morris International (PMI). BlogHer has independent editorial responsibility for the content. The views expressed by the authors and contributors may not represent the views of PMI except for those quotes directly attributed to PMI executives.