How to communicate inclusively, no matter what you're saying.
We’re writers. And hand-in-hand with that vocation is having bucketloads of opinions on words. Around here, never a day goes by without an office conversation or chat thread including an impassioned debate about this word or that word, commas and capitalisations, n dashes and m
dashes, or when to speak and when to stay silent.
And this is a time to speak.
Being inclusive in the language that we use is part of the good that we can do as writers. By resolving to be more intentional with communication, we can guide clients towards using expressions and phrases that unite us rather than divide us. We are storytellers who were raised on words, and we’ll never stop playing with language. But there comes a time to remember that language is serious business. Words and phrases have the power to privilege, exclude or relegate certain groups to the margins.
This guide is by no means complete, but here are some of the things we put into practice daily in our own branded communications and in the websites, documents, press releases and speeches,
social posts, videos and presentations we write for all sorts of clients. In other words, what we’ll always advise editing out of your copy, and why.
Diversity and inclusivity are not the same thing
First, a quick distinction. We’re talking about inclusivity here, which is not the same thing as diversity. A diverse group, for example, is made up of different demographics - ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations; inclusivity means that they feel heard.
Down with the gender binary
“Men and women”, “his and hers” or any expression that assumes there are two only genders frankly doesn’t fly in 2022. A whole spectrum of identities fall outside this binary, and need to be
included in the conversation.
The same goes for gendered language -“mankind”, “policeman”, “waitress” and the like, for which, your copywriter can always find an alternative.
Greet with intention, too. “Ladies and gentlemen” is antiquated and reinforces the privilege of certain characteristics. Consider the term “ladylike” for instance. It carries connotations of being agreeable, pliant and – this feminist would argue – deferential to a male counterpart. “Hello everyone” is much more inclusive of your audience.
We should also talk about pronouns
This one is simple – don’t assume. No matter the context, check before you publish someone’s pronouns. Note that they are their pronouns not “preferred pronouns”, and yes, “they” “them” and “their” are grammatically correct in the singular.
Race and ethnicity
The Associated Press have done the research here. In 2021, they updated their style guide with some pointers. These include avoiding broad generalisations and labels when it comes to race and ethnicity. Capitalise the words Black and Indigenous, reflecting the shared history and community of those who identify with the terms. Be careful not to group races together in one group that “isn’t white”. For example, specify “Latino Americans” and only use “people of colour” when necessary to broadly reference multiple races.
Terms that place the west at the centre of the universe also get the boot from our writers. Hopefully rarely used today, but phrases like “the Far East” have fallen out of favour for being
The age-old debate
As in Hollywood, ageism is rampant in everyday language. We can reduce bias and be more conscious with language by wielding those words (numbers?) with care.
The best way to avoid judgement here is to be specific. Terms like “people over 60” or “octogenerians” don’t carry the same negative connotations as “senior citizens”, “the elderly” or worse, “the aged”. Note that ageist language disproportionately marginalises women. “Old lady”, for example, brings to mind frailty and weakness to a greater degree than “old man” does.
Part of the service
If these feel like murky waters, know that it’s our job to help. Our team of copywriters and editors can craft inclusive copy that makes your audience feel seen, heard and understood. Find out more: https://www.edenfrost.com/copywriting