15 inclusive language fundamentals to help you drive workplace DEI

Louisa Ajami

If you’re looking to begin your journey into a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace, we’ve put together this inclusive language guide, highlighting a few central terms and concepts.

Many organizational leaders and employees support the idea of diversity, equity, and inclusion, though they may be unfamiliar with the nuances of these ideas. 

Is this you or someone you know? If so, vocabulary, word choice, and gaining an awareness of concepts and their connotations is a great step in the right direction toward fostering DEI in the workplace. We’ll explore some of these inclusive language principles in this article.

Inclusive language guide 

Woman explaining inclusive language terms and vocabulary guide in the workplace for DEI

Accommodation

Making changes to certain rules, standards, policies, workplace cultures, and physical environments to ensure that they do not have a negative effect on a person because of their mental or physical ability, religion, gender, or any other protected ground. 

Such accommodations include:

  • wheelchair ramps;
  • breastfeeding rooms;
  • prayer rooms; 
  • voice-enabled technology, and more.

Bias:

A predisposition in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another. Bias can be conscious or unconscious, negative or positive, and it develops through our experiences. 

Everyone has biases, and it is important to be aware of yours and their impact on your behavior and expectations at work.

Culture

Observable behaviors and/or symbols that tend to be expected, reinforced, and rewarded by and within a group.

Cultural competence

An ability to interact effectively and respectfully with people across cultures, languages, classes, races, ethnic backgrounds, religions, sexual orientations, and other identities.

Cultural intelligence

The ability to relate and work effectively across cultures, borders, perspectives, and other differences. 

Discrimination

Actions based on conscious or unconscious prejudice that favor one group over others in delivering goods, services, or opportunities. 

Diversity

The variety of shared and different characteristics among human beings. Experts often divide diversity into “primary” and “secondary” characteristics – primary meaning traits a person is born with, and secondary meaning those they identify with. 

Primary characteristics include:

  • age and generation;
  • ethnicity; 
  • sex; 
  • ability; and 
  • race. 

Secondary characteristics include: 

  • gender
  • work experience; 
  • income; 
  • religion; 
  • communication style; 
  • family status; and 
  • education, among others.

Equity

Fair treatment of everyone that addresses specific needs, barriers, and accommodations to ensure every person has an equal opportunity to participate and share in success. 

Equality, in which individual needs and differences are ignored in favor of giving everyone the same accommodations, is not enough. 

Ethnicity

Belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition. 

Gender

A social and cultural construct that refers to a societal role, not a person’s assigned, biological sex.

Inclusion: 

The process of creating a culture and environment that recognizes, appreciates, and effectively uses the talents, skills, and perspectives of every individual. 

An inclusive environment uses these skills to achieve the organization’s objectives and mission, connects individuals to the organization, and encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness. 

LGBTQ+

An inclusive term for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual or any other sexual orientation. 

People of Color (POC)

Used primarily in the United States to describe any person who is not of European ancestry, emphasizing common experiences of institutionalized discrimination. 

Race

Refers to a group of people of common ancestry, distinguished from others by physical characteristics such as color of skin, shape of eyes, hair texture or facial features. Race has no biological basis; it is purely a social construct.

Sexual orientation

A term describing a person’s attraction to members of the same or other sex or gender. 

Moving forward with DEI in your workplace

Familiarizing yourself with the above terms can help demystify some of the concepts around diversity, equity, and inclusion, steer clear of miscommunication, and help your organization progress further when it comes to DEI at work. It also might be worth finding out if culture training can benefit your team.

Ready to open your world with more cultural understanding? Discover more on our Berlitz culture blog. 

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