My word: The business impacts of inclusive language

Why businesses should be writing for inclusion

Guest post by Grazia Pecoraro

Anyone who has been on the receiving end of an insult knows the adage that words never hurt is a myth. For businesses wanting to get the most out of their communications and create a brand presence that attracts a wide range of customers, writing for inclusion is about more than just political correctness. Language matters as it’s how we define the world.

Research released in February shows that one in three customers from diverse backgrounds stopped making a purchase in the past 12 months because they were not treated fairly or respectfully (Australian Human Rights Commission and Deloitte).

Consider that one in five Australians have a disability, ranging from cognitive difficulty to mobility or sensory impairments.  These people need access to a range of services and may come knocking on your door. How they are greeted by your employees, experience your branding or the language used in marketing and communications of your products and services has the power to make them feel valued, or ostracised.

For businesses communicating in a world where an apparently innocuous tweet or post can be made into a 6.30pm news analysis piece because of offence that has been caused, writing for inclusion (or not!) can have real business ramifications.

Perspective Hive’s services

How to write for inclusion

So what is inclusive language? Here are some basic principles:

  • Be respectful. Any woman of voting age should not be called a girl. Though colloquial, categorising females as ‘guys’ is also not recommended as best practice.
  • Avoid stereotypes. Think how un-empowering the term ‘wheelchair bound’ is versus ‘somebody who uses a wheelchair’. A ‘person living with epilepsy’ is more accurate than saying an ‘epilepsy sufferer’ or ‘victim of epilepsy’.
  • Language shouldn’t exclude people. Watch out for turns-of-phrase that creep into the way we speak. Think of ‘normal people’, ‘the blind leading the blind’, ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘that’s a no-brainer’. Replace ‘chairman’ with chairperson or fireman with ‘fire fighter”. Phones should be ‘attended’ rather than ‘manned’.
  • If you’re referring to someone with disability (not ‘the disabled’), the Australian standard is to use person-first language so that the person isn’t identified by their impairment. For example, use ‘customers who are vision impaired’ rather than ‘blind customers’. Think about accessibility rather than disability as it’s far more empowering e.g. ‘accessible bathrooms’ or ‘accessible parking spot’. The toilets are not disabled and neither should the focus be on the person’s impairment.

Valuing diversity should be part of the communications brand you build for your business, if you want to reflect the customers you’re serving. Setting standards and training your workforce is critical to ensure that inclusive language becomes part of business as usual.

As David Morrison AO said: “The standard you walk past it the standard you accept” so call out language and behaviour that is not inclusive.

About Grazia Pecoraro

Grazia Pecoraro is the principal consultant of Perspective Hive, the hub for thinking differently about difference. Bringing together her years of working in diversity and inclusion, combined with a background in communications, Grazia blends strategy and practical experience to help businesses achieve real business results from embracing difference.

What are your thoughts on writing for inclusion?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on great examples you’ve seen of inclusive language. Share your thoughts on inclusive language in the comments.