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Inclusive language: More than just a word game

May 07, 2023 04:51PM ● By Beverly Jurenko

What comes to mind when you hear the term "Inclusive Language?" For some, it's an opportunity. For others, it can be an annoyance. Objectively, inclusive language is a powerful tool that demonstrates our way of being with others. With practice, we can see the positive impact using inclusive language can have on others. 

So what exactly is inclusive language? Inclusive language is a form of communication that uses words, phrases, expressions, metaphors, and sentences that are welcoming to everyone. It avoids incorporating assumptions that may exclude people so that no one feels left out. We are all different and there are many dimensions of diversity. Everyone's voice is important. 

Inclusive language encompasses emails, messages, marketing materials, social media, cards, websites, and other forms of communication including imagery. Once we understand the importance of inclusive language and know how to use it, we may begin to notice statements that are not inclusive. However, not every exclusion equates to ill will. Sometimes the use of language that is not inclusive can be inadvertent. As we build skills in this area together, a bit of patience and encouragement can go a long way.

If it’s a priority to be effective in your communication, inclusive language provides an important tool. Whether speaking to someone in a cafeteria or giving a presentation at a conference, we want to make an impact on our audience. The goal of effective communication is to engage people, not turn them away. When others are turned away, they close their ears and may not absorb the rest of the important message we aim to convey. We show compassion and respect for others when we work to be aware of our differences and promote inclusion in our language. Here are a few examples: 

  • When talking about disability issues, lead with the person first. Say "the man with a hearing disability" rather than "the deaf man" because people with a disability want to be known as a person first and not only for their disability. 

  • When referring to groups or work roles, avoid gender specific terms. Say ‘chairperson’ rather than ‘chairman’ because the chair is not always going to be male. Try saying "Hello everyone" instead of "Hello ladies and gentlemen" because not everyone identifies as male or female. 

  • Avoid using words or terms like ‘blacklist’ that imply a color associated with a group of people is undesirable. 

  • If discussing groups and subgroups that relate to majority or minority sets, use the term ‘typical’ rather than ‘normal’ because who wants to be tagged the opposite of normal (abnormal) simply by being a member of a smaller group? 

If you are struggling to embrace the ‘why’ in all of this, consider this quote from a 19th century theologian named Tryon Edwards: “Thoughts lead on to purposes; purposes go forth unto actions; actions form habits: habits decide character; and character fixes our destiny.”

Words are powerful, and being inclusive in all forms of speech makes people feel more comfortable about being themselves. Inclusion lowers stress, which brings out the best in everyone. It takes only a very small amount of effort to use inclusive language, and the benefits abound. Just give it a try, and watch how people around you bloom, grow, and seek to be in your presence.

Beverly Jurenko, MBA, certified DEI practitioner, and member of the International Coaching Federation, provides Leadership & Career Coaching and Diversity Equity & Inclusion Consulting through Inside Edge Consulting LLC.

Learn more at or contact her at [email protected].