Inclusive Language In the Workplace: Why It Matters & How To Achieve It

Effective communication forms the foundation for an effective workplace. Of course, it's not just what we say -- it's how we say it! The language we use matters in our day-to-day lives and in the workplace. Creating an inclusive work environment has become a necessity for organizations that are striving for success, growth, and innovation. 

Inclusivity in the workplace encompasses:

  • Valuing diversity.
  • Ensuring equal opportunities.
  • Fostering an environment where all employees feel welcome, respected, and empowered. 

In this article, we will explore the importance of workplace inclusivity and discuss strategies for cultivating a diverse and inclusive workplace.

How to foster an inclusive workplace


Below are a few ways in which you can build an inclusive work environment.

Cultivate a culture of respect

In building the groundwork for fostering an inclusive workplace, the cornerstone is undoubtedly respect. It is imperative to ensure that every member of your organization treats one another with decency and dignity, regardless of their backgrounds or identities. 

In this pursuit, organizational leaders play a pivotal role by exemplifying the value they place on diverse perspectives, thus creating an environment where everyone feels at ease expressing their values and opinions.

Emphasize the significance of open communication and adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards any form of discrimination or harassment. Remember, respect serves as the foundation for all your inclusive workplace strategies and initiatives, but it is only the beginning of the journey.

Using gender-neutral language

Gender-neutral language is key. In fact, it’s a very good starting point to begin your organization's inclusivity journey, and it may be just as important for your personal development in your daily life. 

Gender-neutral language is the use of words and phrases that do not insinuate a specific gender or exclude a gender based on the words used when talking about someone. The use of gender-neutral language is important for these reasons: inclusivity, respect for one's identity, and avoiding assumptions.

  • Inclusivity: Gender-neutral language ensures that every individual, regardless of their gender identity, feels included and acknowledged. This will create an environment that is warm and welcoming to everyone.
  • Respect for one's identity: Using gender-neutral language demonstrates a respect for an individual’s self-identified gender. This will show a mutual respect for each other and acknowledges that gender is diverse and can go beyond traditional binary concepts of male and female.
  • Avoiding assumptions: Gender-neutral language helps to avoid any assumptions about someone’s gender identity based on appearance, names, and other factors. This will help individual’s to realize that gender is not always evident or defined.

Here are some examples of gender-neutral language:

  • Pronouns: Using gender-neutral pronouns like they/them/their or using an individual’s preferred pronouns (such as xe/xem/xyr or ze/hir/hirs) instead of using gendered pronouns like he/him/his or she/her/hers.
  • Titles and honorifics: Referring to someone with gender-neutral titles such as Mx. instead of Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms. is an example of how to address someone without assuming their gender.
  • Occupational terms: When referring to one's occupation, using gender-neutral terms like “police officer” instead of “policeman” or “firefighter” instead of “fireman” is essential in removing gender specific references in job titles. 
  • Collective terms: When conversing with a group, use gender-neutral terms like “folks”, “group”, or “team” instead of “guys” or “gals” when addressing a group of people of different genders.

(Learn about inclusive language in the tech industry.)

Diversify the workforce

When creating initiatives for fostering an inclusive workplace, start with a diverse team. 

A good place to begin would be attracting and seeking out diverse individuals who come from different backgrounds, demographics, and experiences. Make sure to implement unbiased recruiting practices. You may consider using a blind hiring process and so that there will be no biases in the initial hiring process. Emphasizing the importance of skills, potential, and qualifications should be of the highest priority when considering hiring an individual — not  solely focusing on traditional credentials. 

Fostering diversity goes beyond mere hiring. It involves creating a workplace culture that celebrates and values differences. Leaders should: 

  • Encourage open dialogue.
  • Actively listen to diverse perspectives.
  • Create opportunities for all employees to participate and contribute to decision-making processes. 

Inclusive leaders understand that diverse teams lead to enhanced creativity, innovation, and problem-solving capabilities. 

Additionally, leaders should prioritize diversity in leadership positions. Diverse leadership teams can bring a broader range of insights and experiences, making the organization more responsive to the needs of diverse customers and stakeholders. Below is a quote from Harvard Business Review that effectively explains this. 

“Increasing diversity does not, by itself, increase effectiveness; what matters is how an organization harnesses diversity, and whether it’s willing to reshape its power structure.”

(Making these changes is challenging! Consider some organizational change best practices.)

Conduct diversity and inclusion training

Education plays a pivotal role in fostering an inclusive environment within an organization. To cultivate a workplace that embraces diversity and promotes a sense of belonging, regular diversity and inclusion training sessions are crucial. These training sessions offer valuable opportunities to raise awareness among all employees regarding various aspects related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

An essential topic covered in these sessions is unconscious bias. Unconscious biases are deeply rooted attitudes and stereotypes that affect how we perceive and interact with others, often without us even realizing it. By shedding light on these biases, employees can become more mindful of their thoughts and actions, making it easier to challenge and overcome these biases in daily interactions.

Diversity training helps address stereotypes and misconceptions that can continue harmful or limiting beliefs about certain groups. Through interactive workshops and discussions, employees can gain a deeper understanding of different cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives. This knowledge encourages empathy and helps build bridges of understanding between colleagues, ultimately leading to a more cohesive and collaborative workplace.

These sessions can focus on recognizing and addressing microaggressions. Microaggressions are subtle, unintentional behaviors or comments that marginalize individuals based on their race, gender, ethnicity, or other characteristics. By becoming aware of these microaggressions, employees can learn how to avoid accidentally causing harm and create a more respectful and supportive environment for everyone.

Establish employee resource groups (ERGs)

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) serve as a powerful and effective tool in advancing inclusivity and diversity within an organization. These groups play a significant role in creating a sense of belonging and empowerment for employees with shared backgrounds or experiences. Encouraging the establishment and growth of ERGs that represent various demographics — such as LGBTQ+, women, people with disabilities, and cultural and religious groups — can have profound positive impacts on both individuals and the organization as a whole.

(Get some inspiration from our own Splunk ERGs.)

Promoting inclusivity is an ongoing effort

Promoting inclusivity in the workplace is not a one-size-fits-all approach; it requires continuous effort and commitment from every level of the organization. By fostering a culture of respect, using gender-neutral language, diversifying the workplace, providing training, and establishing ERGs, businesses can create a stronger, more unified team. 

As we learn to celebrate our differences and embrace diversity, we can create a workplace where everyone feels respected, included, valued, and empowered to be their best selves at work. Together, let’s start on this journey, turning our workplaces into prime examples of inclusivity and driving change that extends beyond our organization!

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Samantha Dunn
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Samantha Dunn

Samantha Dunn is a summer intern for the growth marketing team at Splunk. Samantha is pursuing a degree from North Carolina State University in Business Administration and is interested in the ways IT will change in the coming years and how it will impact our lives.