But in an increasingly diverse workplace where people come from diverse backgrounds, how does an organization foster inclusive communication? How can they avoid communication traps and eliminate company bias? Let’s take a look at these 7 actionable steps.
7 Actionable Steps to Build Inclusive Communication
A workplace with flawless inclusive communication is not built overnight. There will be huge bumps, especially at the start that may tempt you to quit the initiative. However, the rewards of achieving true diversity and inclusion are priceless. Whatever pains and struggles you’ll face at the beginning will be well worth it.
- Create an inclusive communication guide.
Sometimes, well-meaning employees make an honest mistake that can be misinterpreted as discriminatory. Oftentimes, they simply don’t know any better. Help your employees practice inclusive communication by providing them with an inclusive communication guide.
These guides will supplement a diversity training where inclusive communication is taught. It will serve as a handy reminder of what inclusive communication should look like. Your HR team or a dedicated Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee should create this guide. You may also tap a DEI professional to help you.
- Encourage everyone to communicate their pronouns.
Using the right pronouns to refer to someone implies that you respect their choice. However, it can be misused if people are not aware of what pronouns their colleagues go by. You can encourage each employee to display their pronouns in their email signatures, work profiles, and even creatively on their work desks.
However, be careful not to impose this as an absolute rule for those who prefer to keep things private. Understand that some employees, especially those undergoing gender transition, may be in the process of soul searching and may want to keep things private for a while. When it comes to pronouns, always give everyone a choice.
- Use inclusive language.
Using non-inclusive language can exclude certain people in your organization. While it’s normal to make mistakes at first, this should be treated as a learning opportunity to do better next time. Some examples of inclusive language are:
- “All genders” vs “both genders” or “opposite sex”
- “Police officers” vs “policeman/policewoman” and other similar gendered terms
- “Chairperson” vs “chairman”
- “Everyone” vs “ladies and gentlemen”
- “Partner” vs “girlfriend/boyfriend” or “wife/husband”
Here are some other helpful tips for using inclusive language:
- Avoid focusing on a person’s impairment. Instead, focus on the accessibility or disability barrier. For example, use “persons with disability” vs “handicapped” or “crippled”.
- Use person-first language such as “person who is deaf”, “person with low vision”, etc.
- Move away from binary language such as “men and women” and instead use “all” or “everyone”.
- Use identity-first language if that’s how people describe themselves. For example, “autistic person”.
It may be confusing trying to learn these new language conventions and moving away from old language habits. Be forgiving for those who make mistakes by patiently educating and gently correcting them. As the habit of using inclusive language takes root, these new terms would soon become natural for everyone.
- Listen attentively and give your full attention when someone’s talking.
Inclusive communication is a two-way street where listening is equally important. It involves active listening where you should be able to ask clarification questions and follow-up questions to show your interest.
When you have to give feedback to the one talking or you disagree with their statements, express your sentiments in a sensitive and caring manner. You can be critical, but remain respectful. Inclusive communication is all about being polite and kind to everyone around you.
- Stop making assumptions.
Assumptions are never good at fostering an inclusive environment. More often than not, even if we only make assumptions in our heads, these assumptions show through our communications. Avoid the following:
- Assuming everyone understands your acronyms. Take time to spell out acronyms especially if these are unique to your organization or industry.
- Using stereotypical jokes or comments against identity groups. Making stereotypes are the gravest form of assumption and probably the hardest to counteract. They have been long ingrained in our culture and it may feel futile to overcome them. But for the sake of inclusive communication in the workplace, we have to.
- Making gendered assumptions such as women are warm and men are fierce. This limits how we view our colleagues and shows in how we treat them.
- Use inclusive design, especially in print and online communications.
Emails, message boards, the company website, and other work platforms are also important places to build inclusive communication. When releasing online communication, make sure that it’s accessible to every employee including persons with disabilities. Videos must have captions and subtitles. Images must have alt text that can be read by a screen reader.
When writing text, use headings and simple formatting to aid readability. When writing acronyms, always expand at first use. Use alternative formats for any written material such as braille, large print, audio, etc. If distributing recordings, make sure there are transcripts that can be read as well.
- Understand your own bias and become a true ally.
Stereotypes, bias, and non-inclusive language are deeply ingrained in our culture. It’s a sad reality that we must face and accept. Decades of racist comments and gender prejudice is not easy to overcome even if we draft the best inclusive communication guides and dutifully implement inclusive designs. There will be times when a racist joke will slip among closed circles during coffee breaks. There will be moments when a heated argument will break forth during a meeting and slurs of stereotype bias will be spoken.
While these scenarios can’t be avoided, it’s possible to eliminate them over time. By understanding your own biases and encouraging everyone else to do the same, you gain self-awareness. You begin to understand deep-seated reasons why you hold these biases and start correcting them. As you do so, you gain empathy for people who are different from you.
When we gain empathy and a better understanding of others, we feel their plight and start to champion their causes. Even when they are not around, we begin to defend them. We correct others for their wrong assumptions and stand up for our discriminated peers. This creates true allies who will be stalwart defenders of inclusivity.
When your organization reaches that level, you know that despite unavoidable biased circumstances, there will always be someone who’ll stand up against it.
Achieve Inclusive Communication in the Workplace Today
Achieving inclusive communication in the workplace may seem like a daunting task. There are too many things to consider and the impacts of not being inclusive can be severe. However, you can always take things one step at a time. As long as you’re making progress, it’s alright to go slow.
Becoming a diverse and inclusive workplace that respects the rights of everyone is a goal any company can achieve. As long as you are committed and you implement steps towards inclusivity, then it won’t be long before you achieve your goal.