The Diversity Council of Australia has launched a new campaign to encourage more inclusive language in the workplace.  There is a new campaign, #WordsAtWork which is going viral for all the wrong reasons, and as usual, the focus in discussions about this very important subject have been hijacked because of one thing uttered by the Chair, David Morrison AO.

Mr Morrison said that language plays a critical role in shaping workplace cultures, in particular in how people are able to reach their potential regardless of age, race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.  You can see his video here.

It is true that language can impact how people feel – if a male supervisor uses the term ‘girls’ in a disparaging way when referring to a group of women at work (or men for that matter!), it can be disrespectful, especially if it is repetitious.

The campaign is about people carefully using their language to ensure that it is respectful and accurate and does not demean or exclude anyone.

Mr Morrison said that personally he had decided not to use the word ‘guys’ when greeting work colleagues and this is what has social media, as well as main stream media in uproar, and unfortunately has derailed the important message of basically being respectful to your work colleagues.  It is true that ‘guys’ has come to be a generic term referring to both men and women.  I work in an almost exclusively female environment and we often greet each other with ‘Hi guys’ or ‘Hey guys’.  The point is of course that our work culture is one of respect to start with, so that even if someone was offended by the use of this word, they are empowered to say something about it.  Not all workplaces are like that.

The important message from this is straight from the DCA website, and this is the message that we should be remembering:

Why language matters:

Language is a powerful tool for building inclusion at work. It can be used to create a sense of being valued, respected and one of the team (included) or of being under-valued, disrespected, and an ‘outsider’ (excluded).

Research demonstrates that inclusive cultures are high performing cultures – they deliver greater performance and productivity.  How we speak to and about each other influences how we treat each other, and this builds our workplace cultures. Studies show that:

  • Non-inclusive language contributes to and continues stereotyping
  • Non-inclusive language harms people who witness it as well as the intended targets
  • When used in job interviews, non-inclusive language results in applicants from excluded groups finding the position less attractive, and experiencing less motivation and identification with the position than those who are exposed to inclusive language
  • Non-inclusive comments in the workplace can have an insidious effect on individuals from the excluded groups, impeding their advancement at work by presenting them as incompetent and not suitable for leadership roles
  • Frequent non-inclusive experiences at work have just as harmful effects as more intense but less frequent experiences (e.g. sexual coercion and harassment)
  • Non-inclusive jokes can lead to tolerance of hostile feelings and discrimination against people from excluded groups.

This has made me think about how I speak to others in the workplace and how unconsciously my language may impact others. How can you make sure your language is inclusive and not demeaning to others?