In March of this year, AVIXA released an Inclusive Language Guide through its Diversity Council, supported by TAD and Audinate. I highly recommend you take the time to read the guide: You can find it here. Better yet, I highly recommend you print it off and hang copies of it around your offices, workshops and workspaces. The guide is only nine pages long; the most critical pieces of it are only five or so pages long. Email the link (and this blog) to your entire organization. It is very well written, and very clear about the suggestions that it puts forward.
I am calling special attention to the guide in this blog because I think some people may think it does not apply to them or their workplace. I suggest it applies to everyone and every workspace. Why? As the guide points out, we all have some type of implicit bias. Even if we support diversity, have diversity in our workspace and offer training and support, implicit bias still exists.
By reading this guide and being mindful of the language we use, we not only support diversity in our own workspaces, but more importantly, we support diversity across our industry, and across the world. By modeling this behavior and giving one another permission to correct the other when we make mistakes, we take the “scariness” out of these issues. What do I mean by “scariness?” I think that many people are afraid of openly discussing these issues, and will say things like, “I never know what words to use anymore.” Or, they avoid open discussions altogether because they are afraid of insulting someone by using the wrong language. I appreciate the fact the language guide directly addresses this issue and recognizes that “it can be difficult to change and unlearn a lifetime of habits.” It certainly can be!
Another concern may be that people don’t understand why some terms are offensive or hurtful. Let’s hope much of the language that centers around the black/white power balance, or the master/slave relationships, are not what causes confusion. It is very clear in those instances why those terms continue to reinforce implicit bias and prejudice. They clearly recall historical relationships or reinforce the idea that white is “good” and black is “bad.”
However, I think that some of the phrases like male connector, female connector or manpower may be more difficult to understand why the language is problematic. I am writing this blog at the very end of pride month, so I am particularly sensitive to this type of language right now. These terms, along with chosen pronouns, are difficult to remember to change. In particular, pronoun changes are difficult — I will admit to personally struggling with it.
So why is this? I grew up in school being taught the pronouns they/them/theirs represent multiple people. It has been very difficult for my brain to understand that referring to a single person with those terms is OK. I promise you, the more you do it, the more it will become normal to you. And, people will appreciate that you are doing it! You may work with people with someone who prefers a different set of pronouns but are not sure how others in your organization may react. Stating your pronouns in emails or other communications sends the message that it is OK to do this. It begins to make people feel more comfortable and included.
In the end, my argument to people when we have discussions about why this matters is simple: Some of the language and phrases we have always used are hurtful to people. It is hurtful. Even if you don’t understand why, try to understand that it is. Why would we want to be hurtful to others rather than just change our language? We are seeing more of this now because people are finally getting the opportunity and publicity to explain why this language has always been hurtful. I often ask people to simply be mindful of the language they use. Throughout history, language has changed and come to mean different things. We have all learned to use different phrases and words, and we can continue to do so.
By being mindful of the language we use, we can increase the diversity of our industry and continue to make everyone feel more included. I am confident the overwhelming majority of our industry does not want to exclude people. While learning these changes may not be easy, it is a very concrete way to avoid exclusion.