By: Veronica Figueroa Fernandez, PRSA Orlando Diversity & Inclusion Chair, and Doragnes Rivera Bradshaw, Diversity & Inclusion Committee
Before your press release, blog, newsletter, social media post, or website update goes live, it will go through an editing process to ensure it is grammatically correct, and that it properly conveys the message and matches the corporate brand voice. However, many editors and marketing professionals do not think to review their posts for inclusive language.
In order for your communication to be effective and address all audiences, inclusive language must be prioritized. This means using language that acknowledges diversity, is sensitive to differences, and is free from words and phrases that excludes people.
With this glossary, we’ll explore examples of inclusive language, as well as terms to avoid, to ensure your marketing material is more inclusive of your audience. And while this may feel like a lengthy list of terms, keep in mind that we have barely scratched the surface on inclusive terminology, and will continue to make updates to this glossary in the future. It’s important to always refer to sources such as the ones listed on the bottom of this glossary for the most up-to-date information.
- Ageism: Prejudiced thoughts and discriminatory actions based on differences in age; usually that of younger persons against older.
- Affinity Groups: Groups of individuals with similar interests, goals or backgrounds. The groups act as safe spaces for these individuals to network, seek mentorship, or find professional development opportunities. Lockheed Martin, for example, recognizes the power of affinity groups, and empowered its employees to submit innovative ideas in support of the different groups represented within the organization, from Hispanic leaders, to Asian American professionals, to those who belong to the LGBTQIA+ community. Also known as Employee Resource Groups (ERG). Locally, EA is an employer that values Inclusion & Diversity, pay equity, and encourages their employees to join ERGs.
- Ally: A person who uses their position of power, leadership and/or privilege to enact positive change and elevate underrepresented and vulnerable groups. This can look like a man standing up for a female colleague or a white ally looking to listen and learn at a Black Lives Matter march.
- Diversity: The collection of attributes that differentiate individuals from one another. This includes, but is not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities, social class, national origin, and more.
- Equality: The condition of being equal, such as enjoying the same rights and status as others. Equality can only work when everyone has been given the same opportunities in life, but is not often the case.
- Equity: The act of ensuring that processes and programs are impartial, and create fair access and advancement opportunities for individuals. Equity differs from equality in that equity recognizes some individuals may require additional assistance in reaching a goal.
- Explicit Bias/Conscious Bias: The attitudes and prejudices about a group that we are aware of, such as racism or sexism. These are dangerous biases. Today, there are laws in place to protect employees from being a target of these biases in the workplace.
- Inclusion: An authentic sense of belonging, ensuring that individuals feel welcome. Note that inclusion is not a natural result of diversity if diverse individuals aren’t given a seat at the table.
- Implicit Bias/Unconscious Bias: Bias that operates within an individual’s awareness, describing social stereotypes about certain groups of people without our conscious knowledge. An example of implicit bias is ageism in the workplace, targeting older workers because employers tend to value younger employees.
- Imposter Syndrome: The internal thoughts or experience in which an individual doubts their abilities and finds it difficult to accept their accomplishments. Imposter Syndrome is not unique to professional women or women of color, but it affects those groups the most.
- Intersectionality: The complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.
- Micro-Aggression: Commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory racial slights. These messages may be sent verbally, (“You speak good English”), non-verbally (clutching one’s purse more tightly around people from a certain race/ethnicity) or environmentally (symbols like the confederate flag or using Native American mascots). Such communications are usually outside the level of conscious awareness of perpetrators.
Race & Ethnicity Terms:
- AAPI: The acronym for Asian American Pacific Islander.
- American Indian/Alaskan Native, Native American: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.
- BIPOC/POC: The acronym used for Black, Indigenous, People of Color. A term commonly used to describe individuals who are not considered white.
- Black: Any various populations that have dark pigmentation of skin who identify as Black, including those in the African Diaspora and within Africa. Should be capitalized.
- Code Switching: The alternating or mixed use of two more languages by moving back and forth between the two languages to meet the communication needs. It also is the alteration of clothes, hairstyles and music from one environment to another to be accepted.
- Latino, Latina, Latinx: Used to describe people and culture of Latin American descent. Latinx is a gender neutral alternative that replaces the “o” (male) and “a” (female) at the end of Latino and Latina.
- HBCU: Historically black colleges and universities in higher education that were established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the intention of primarily serving the African-American community. Prior to the time of their establishment and for many years afterwards, Black people were generally denied admission to predominantly white institutions. HBCUs became the principal means of providing postsecondary school to Black Americans.
- Hispanic: Describes people, descendants, and cultures of Spanish-speaking countries, including many Latin American countries and Spain.
- Historical Underrepresented Groups: Groups who have been denied access and/or suffered past institutional discrimination in the United States, including African Americans, Black people, Asian Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans.
- Tokenism: The hiring or seeking underrepresented groups so as to appear inclusive while remaining mono-cultural.
- Tone Policing: A condescending conversational tactic that dismisses an idea being communicated when it is perceived as emotionally charged. For example, the trope of an “angry Black woman” is a stereotype that is perpetuated by this tactic.
- Xenophobia: The fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign
Gender & Sexual Orientation Terms:
- Agender: A word that can describe a person who does not identify as any gender.
- Ally: A cisgender person who supports and advocates for the LGBTQIA+ community.
- Asexual: A person who does not experience sexual attraction.
- Bisexual: A person who has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to those of the same gender or those of another gender.
- Cisgender: A term used to describe people who are not transgender.
- Gender Dysphoria: The psychological distress that can result from an incongruence between once’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity. Not all transgender people experience dysphoria.
- Gender Fluid: A person who does not have a fixed gender identity.
- Gender Identity: A person’s internal, deeply held sense of their gender.
- Homosexual: A term that refers to a peson who is attracted to people of the same sex, often used in a derogatory manner. According to Dictionary.com’s usage alert, the term “homosexuality” was listed was listed in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), psychiatry’s standard reference on the classification of mental illness up until 1973. People aware of this former categorization feel that the term homosexual still carries a negative connotation. Also, many feel that this word places undue emphasis on sexual activity, or that it sounds overly clinical. In fact, homosexual as an adjective and noun has been mostly replaced by gay except in medical or other formal contexts. People who still use homosexual are usually unaware that the term is a sensitive one, although some do use it with intent to cause offense. However, not all members of the gay community object to it.
- Intersex: A term describing people born with reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or a chromosome pattern that can’t be classified as typically male or female. Avoid using the term “hermaphrodite” for this group of people.
- LGBTQIA/LGBTQ+: The acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual.
- Nonbinary: A term used to describe people who experience their gender idenity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman. The term is interchangeable with genderqueer.
- Pansexual: A person who can form attractions to any person, regardless of gender identity.
- Sexual Orientation: The scientifically accurate term for an individual’s enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to members of the same and/or opposite sex, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and heterosexual (straight) orientations. Avoid the offensive term “sexual preference,” which is used to suggest that being gay, lesbian, or bisexual is voluntary and therefore “curable.”
- Transgender/Trans: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. Avoid using the term “tranny.”
- Two-Spirit: Traditionally, Native American two-spirit people were male, female, and sometimes intersexed individuals who combined activities of both men and women with traits unique to their status as two-spirit people. In most tribes, they were considered neither men nor women; they occupied a distinct, alternative gender status.
- Ableism: The belief that disabled individuals are inferior to non-disabled individuals, leading to discrimination toward and oppression of individuals with disabilities and physical differences.
- Accessibility: The extent to which a facility is readily approachable and usable by individuals with disabilities, particularly such areas as the residence halls, classrooms, and public areas.
- ADA: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA is one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life – to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services.
- Inclusive Design: It is a methodology, born out of digital environments, that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity. Most importantly, this means including and learning from people with a range of perspectives.
- Neurodiversity: It is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome.
Terms and Phrases to Avoid:
- At-risk: Groups, such as students, who are labeled as “at-risk” can suffer from “stereotype threat,” meaning they will perform worse academically when they are worried about living up to a negative stereotype about their group. Instead use terms such as “historically underserved,” “underrepresented,” or “disenfranchised,” or clearly identify the risk factor.
- Girls: This term is seen as a sexist and diminishing term that is not appropriate in a workplace setting. Along the same vein, do not address women in the workplace as “sweetheart,” “darling,” “kiddo,” “baby,” or any other diminutive pet name.
- Guys: Although it can feel gender-neutral, it isn’t. Studies have found that gender-exclusive linguistic cues can lead women to feel ostracized in professional environments. Instead, use terms such as “all,” “everyone,” “team,” “pals,” or just don’t attach another word.
- Handicap: “Handicapped” has a negative connotation for many people, so the common term is “person with a disability.” Handicap describes a condition or barrier caused by society or the environment, i.e., “She is handicapped by inaccessible transportation,” or “stairs are a handicap to him.”
- Mental Illness: Avoid using mental illnesses as an adjective for something other than a medical condition, such as complaining that an acquaintance is “bipolar” because they changed their mind on something.
- Minority: According to the Pew Research Center, by 2055, the United States “will have no racial or ethnic majority group.” The Census Bureau expects the country will have more people of color than white people. Appropriate terminology could include: “communities of color,” “marginalized communities,” “underprivileged,” or even “emerging majority” when referencing statistics and data.
- Victimhood: Avoid phrases that suggest victimhood, such as “suffers from,” “afflicted by,” or “victim of.” These terms carry the assumption that a person with a disability is suffering or has a reduced quality of life. Not every person with a disability suffers, is a victim or is stricken. Instead of saying “he suffers from muscular dystrophy,” say “he has muscular dystrophy.”
How to create Inclusive Brand Guidelines and Communications:
- Use Gender Neutral Language: Using words that include all genders rather than those that include only two genders. Think about the message you’re trying to portray and of the words chosen. Use chair, not chairman; workforce, not manpower; meteorologist, not weatherman.
- Normalize Pronoun Use: This can look like encouraging your employees to share their pronouns on their social media profiles or email signatures, to giving website users the option to choose gender neutral prefixes and pronouns, as the White House website does.
- Use Person-First Language: Always put the person before their disability, as it is a way to separate someone’s diagnosis from their person. For example, “a child with Down Syndrome” rather than “a Down Syndrome child” or “People with disabilities.”
- Create a checklist that includes the following questions, at minimum:
- Have I checked for bias?
- Does this reflect the community and the population?
- Does this follow our values and DEI statements?
- Am I speaking for someone instead of amplifying their voice?
- Do our templates and image banks represent a community?
The Human Rights Campaign, National Aging and Disability Transportation Center, Emory University, Pacific University Oregon, 2010 Census, WOUB Public Media, GLAAD, Dictionary.com, Indian Health Service, National Center on Disability and Journalism, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, U.S. Department of Education