Using words that exclude or alienate people often happens accidentally, but the outcome can be the same, despite our intentions. That’s why it’s important for business leaders to carefully evaluate their language and content choices to avoid pushing away potential customers or employees, especially as more consumers and employees expect brands to actively include people of all genders, sexualities, abilities, religions and backgrounds.
If you want to be a diverse, forward-thinking company, take a look at your language blind spots. When you work to include everyone through your actions and behavior, your consumers and employees will notice.
The Impact of Language
As a business owner, it’s critically important to remember that your employees and customers look to you for leadership and may interpret cues from your language choices.
I recently saw a job posting that said, “The ideal candidate is not afraid to get his hands dirty and work fast.” It was probably not intentional, but the language defaulted to men, which can signal to women they’re unwelcome. Such language choices are unfortunately common in hiring and leadership. By paying attention and making a simple language adjustment, that business could have created a more inclusive space and diversified its candidate pool.
Inclusive language is especially important to Millennials and Generation Z who have accelerated the movement to make everything we write, say and do more inclusive. The issue is often personal for them. According to 2018 Pew Research Center findings, which surveyed 10,682 U.S. adults ages 18 and older and 920 teens ages 13 to 17, 35% of Gen Z and 25% of Millennials know someone who prefers gender-neutral pronouns. These generations also have substantial spending power now, and as a business, you don’t want to alienate possible consumers (or employees) with non-inclusive language.
Ultimately, there are four main reasons why your business should switch to gender-inclusive language:
1. It’s the right thing to do.
Being a force for change can feel daunting, especially if the terminology is unfamiliar, but it’s the right thing to do. Exclusionary language can feed continued cycles of bias. Biases, in turn, can lead to microaggressions and homogeneity. If you don’t communicate a desire for inclusivity, you can’t create an environment where everyone is equally able to contribute and perform.
If you’re looking for resources to help you use inclusive language, there are free guides available. The A Progressive’s Style Guide by SumofUs.org and ActivistEditor, and the 18F Style Guide can help make sure your brand’s language is up to date with the most respectful and equally representational terms.
A brand that embraces inclusive language and makes diversity a priority can connect with a wider range of consumers on a more meaningful level.
2. You can help decrease sexism.
Historically, English-speaking cultures defaulted to masculine words. A report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that avoiding masculine pronouns actually helped reduce people’s biases among those who heard the language, boosting positive feelings toward other genders. Simply using words like “firefighter” instead of “fireman,” “humankind” instead of “mankind” and “everyone” instead of “guys” avoids excluding people who don’t identify as male.
3. You can attract more diverse candidates and help decrease employee turnover.
Inclusive language is critical for attracting a diverse pool of job candidates, and a diverse workforce is critical for developing a more inclusive — and more successful — work environment. Now more than ever, candidates value companies that make an effort to improve diversity and inclusivity.
Millennials and Gen Z often intentionally seek out companies that foster fairness and equality in the workplace, and the level of diversity at a company can influence whether they’ll decide to work there and how long they'll stay. Employee retention helps minimize costs and maximize profits.
4. Customers realize you genuinely care about everyone.
A brand that embraces inclusive language and makes diversity a priority can connect with a wider range of consumers on a more meaningful level. As consumers see it, if a brand isn’t thinking about them, why should they think about the brand?
As you make changes, be thorough. Consumers will notice if your commitment only goes halfway. There’s now content software that can help identify and eliminate biased language in all of your internal and external content, including job listings, websites, social media, emails and any other communications or platforms you use.
When running a business, you have to be aware of the impact of every decision you make—and this includes word choice. Choose terms that will not only impact your bottom line but improve society as a whole.
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