Correcting Non-Inclusive Language

Recognize and flag language that excludes people in your team.

Diversity & Inclusion

Inspired by:

Robin Wright-Pierce, Diversity Coach and Senior Social Equity Specialist at Design Impact


Correcting Non-Inclusive Language

"Hey, you guys. Let's have a quick discussion about what's on the roadmap."

Did you notice the non-inclusive language in that statement? It's so commonplace, most people don't!

Recognizing non-inclusive language can be challenging, but holding our colleagues accountable for it creates a safer environment for everyone.

Here's a way to address it and set a good example for your team.

☝️ 1. Play back what you're hearing

Take a second to raise a flag in private and confirm that you understood the comment correctly.

You can say something like: “I noticed in our team meeting yesterday you kept addressing the room using 'guys', did you notice this?”

💥 2. Call out the impact and problem

Once you’ve clarified the intention, focus on the impact of the comment and why it’s problematic.

“There are many people, particularly those that identify as women that don't feel part of the group when they're referred to as 'guys'."

💡 3. Suggest an alternative

Help the other person understand what a better alternative would be:

“We want to make this an inclusive environment, so could you make an effort to use something different; why not 'everyone' or 'hey people'?”

👐 4. Reassure them

After explaining why what they did was wrong, follow up with reassurance to help them do better in the future.

“I know that you're not going to take this lightly, don't beat yourself up about it. It took me a few weeks of practice and slipping up to change my habit, but everyone on the team will appreciate the effort.”

🕵️ Have you spotted these?

More inclusive: They/Them Less inclusive: He/him (when describing a typical person)

More inclusive: Women Less inclusive: Girls (when referring to adults)

More inclusive: Typical Less inclusive: Normal (Can stigmatize people who are different and imply they are abnormal.)

More inclusive: Marginalized or underrepresented groups Less inclusive: Minorities (Not all marginalized groups are minorities)

Stay strong

Calling someone out may cause a defensive reaction at first. Expect it, but stay focused on their actions and the impact they caused, that way you can guide them towards conscious and lasting change.

Pro-tip: If you're using Slack you can write a custom response that will have Slackbot say Hey! Instead of using "guys", why not "everyone" or "all"?

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