The importance of inclusive language strategies in promoting employee well-being in the workplace can’t be overstated, and communicators play a significant role.
In this World Conference 2023 session preview, hear from Farida Habeeb, senior manager of DEI and Strategy at Brilliant Ink, who will lead the session "Say This, Not That: Bringing an Inclusive Lens to Your Internal Communications" in Toronto on 6 June.
Habeeb will discuss the impact that a lack of diversity and inclusion can have on workplace culture and employee well-being, as well as three principles of inclusive language. Learn how to use these principles in the sneak peek below and register to attend World Conference 2023 today.
How does your presentation relate to mental health and the communicator’s role in promoting inclusivity?
While it's important to use inclusive language when describing all aspects of our identities, from race to gender to sexuality, inclusive mental health language is essential to reducing stigma. Many of us (myself included) commonly use words like crazy to describe ourselves or a frustrating situation, without pausing to consider how this language stigmatizes people with mental illness. Words become thoughts, and thoughts become actions.
To make the world a more equitable place, we must start with how we describe people who are historically marginalized. Especially for those of us working in health or HR communications, it's key that we uplift our employees by using language that conveys respect for all.
What impact can a lack of diversity and inclusion have on workplace culture and employee well-being?
I hate to refer to the business case when answering this question because diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is an ethical imperative, but the research is undeniable. Businesses that treat DEI like an afterthought or a checkbox activity are less innovative and less financially successful than those that make it a core part of their strategy.
A robust DEI strategy attracts diverse talent, drives a more inclusive workplace culture and enhances employee engagement. It's a win-win for everyone. But because too many companies ghettoize it, underfund it and otherwise undermine it, they fail to access its full benefits. And unfortunately, employees suffer the most from this undermining.
Your presentation touches on three principles of inclusive language. Can you tell us more about that?
Inclusive language is hotly debated and highly context-dependent — what’s considered inclusive in the U.S. may vary in Canada, and what's inclusive now will likely not be 50 years from now. But there are three general principles to help us use the basics of inclusive language in our lives:
- Using person-first language. Person-first language means that we describe people according to who they are (person with schizophrenia), rather than reducing them to what they have (schizophrenic).
- Deferring to self-dentification. Self-identification means we defer to a person's individual preference for how they want to be described (some folks genuinely prefer African American to Black).
- Using active voice. And active voice means that we always name names — rather than saying that "George Floyd was murdered," we say that "The police murdered George Floyd."
These three principles of inclusive language may seem like small linguistic signals, but they can have a huge impact on the stories we tell — and therefore the actions we take.
What are one or two key insights you’d like attendees to take away from your session?
I'd love for attendees to know they can and will make mistakes! If you want to implement DEI initiatives into your lives without any personal or professional risk, you're in the wrong line of work. As you make decisions about how you're framing your stories and your employees' perspectives, you're going to mess up, and that's OK — so long as you acknowledge it and do better next time.
I'd also like attendees to know that it's important, especially in DEI communications, to ask for feedback. Check in with your employee resource groups and your internal DEI champions. Make sure you're getting your employee audience right. And if you're ever stuck or need an experienced thought partner, Brilliant Ink is here to help!
Farida Habeeb, PhD, is a communications and DEI expert with 15 years of experience, most recently as a professor of writing with an emphasis on DEI at the University of Southern California. Today, she is a Senior DEI & Strategy Manager at Brilliant Ink, leading client accounts on DEI communications and employee research.