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  • Writer's pictureAJ Cheponis

Inclusive Language: A Growing and Evolving List with Alternatives

There are many things we believed growing up that have since been proven to be false. We now know it’s not dangerous to swim right after you eat. An apple a day doesn’t keep the doctor away. It doesn’t take seven years for your body to digest gum, and a watermelon won’t grow in your stomach if you swallow one of its seeds.


In fact, we even believed things that were extremely dangerous and caused more harm than good:

  • Smoking was advertised as healthy, even for pregnant people.

  • Doctors didn’t wash their hands before surgery.

  • Lobotomies were thought to be a cure for all mental illnesses.

  • Cars didn’t have seatbelts and kids didn’t have car seats.

There are also sayings that we know are no longer true, such as, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”


That’s a myth that has since been not only busted but completely demolished.


As Sally McConnell-Ginet, Professor Emerita at Cornell University writes in her book, Words Matter: Meaning and Power“:


“Words (and meaningful silences) matter enormously in our lives. They enable us to cooperate, collaborate, and ally with one another-as well as to exclude, exploit, and subordinate one another. They script our performances as certain kinds of people in certain social locations. They are politically powerful, both as dominating weapons that help oppress and as effective tools that can resist oppression. But words in and of themselves are impotent. It is the socially structured practices and historically situated circumstances constituting our social lives that pour content into words, endow them with meaning and power.”




Why it’s important to use inclusive language

We believe in the mission of “Better Work, Better World.” Our mission is focused on employees, and clients who span different cities, states, and even countries.


We’re not just geographically diverse. Each of us has unique lived experiences, which are shaped by our culture, nationality, language, education, socioeconomic status, and so much more. These differences serve to enrich us as people, enhancing our appreciation for what makes us special.


And yet, those differences can lead to some uncomfortable friction. If someone had a very different upbringing than their co-worker, they may also use a very different vocabulary in the workplace. For example, a person who grew up in the U.S. may have been taught to refer to developing nations as “third-world countries.” To someone from a developing nation, however, this term may be considered insensitive, exclusionary, or both.


An employee may not intend any harm when they use certain words or phrases. But if the person on the receiving end feels hurt as a result of the conversation, it’s a sign we can—and should—try to understand why that reaction occurred, and how to avoid it moving forward.


A word bank of terms to replace (and their inclusive counterparts)

When we know better, we can do better. Below you’ll find different categories with lists of words that we should all be trying to replace and update in our work and personal lives.



Racist and/or Appropriative

Many of these words and phrases have racist origins, but some don’t. Why are they on the list? Because they still have hurtful and harmful meanings. For example, “blacklist” and “whitelist” don’t have racist origins, but they reinforce the idea that white is good/positive and black is bad/negative.



Ableist


Gendered



Insensitive

There are some phrases that aren’t necessarily offensive, but may cause a colleague to have a negative reaction based on their own life experiences. For example, the term “jumping the gun” is a reference to track and field, but carries added weight given ongoing gun violence in the U.S. and abroad.



Examples of changes the Predictive Index has made Gender neutral reports

When we think about honoring one’s pronouns, it’s as important as calling someone the right name. It’s their identity, and it needs to be respected.


Gender pronouns have become a prominent part of the business world, and a way to show support and honor the identities of all people. Within the software industry (especially in HR systems), the inclusion of pronoun fields have become common practice, similar to the phonetic pronunciation of one’s name. Big tech platforms such as LinkedIn, Slack, and Zoom have added pronoun fields to their software.


We are committed to a culture of belonging and believe adding pronouns is respectful and inclusive of all people’s identities. The Predictive Index updated the behavioral reports to be gender-neutral in 2018 and made similar inclusion efforts in hiring, onboarding, and development initiatives.


Inclusive product verbiage

In 2022, PI updated its materials as part of an ongoing inclusion audit within the business. This resulted in two big changes:

  1. They updated the Craftsman Reference Profile in favor of a gender-neutral name: Artisan.

  2. They phased out the term “blind spots” due to its ableist connotations and replaced it with the more inclusive term “caution areas".


In making these changes, we all hope to provide a more inclusive, welcoming, and memorable experience for our clients.

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