GUIDE

Inclusive
language in the
workplace

Inclusive language in the workplace

Why does inclusive language matter?

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) language are ever-growing, always evolving, and increasingly important in the workplace right now. After all, language shapes culture and people crave supportive cultures and healthy communication in an uncertain world.

Inclusive language aims to be just that: inclusive of all people. Inclusive language avoids offensive and negative expressions that imply ideas that are sexist, racist, otherwise biased, prejudiced, or denigrating to any particular group of people.

Because DEI language is a work in progress, we recommend bookmarking this page; we’ll continually refresh it with some of the most important terms.

Principles of inclusive language

  • Any group interactions should be applied with care and consideration, with an awareness of the diversity within and between groups, and always be couched in inclusive terms.
  • Use people-centric language, which focuses on the person and reflects the individuality of people. People-centric language doesn’t classify or stereotype people based on their association or identity with a group or culture.
  • Only reference personal attributes or characteristics when it’s relevant to the context.
  • Consider a strengths-based approach (recognizing the agility of people and focusing on abilities, knowledge, and capacities), rather than a deficit approach (focusing on deficiencies of a person or group of people).
  • Where appropriate, ask about the language the person prefers and respect their wishes. Don’t make assumptions about people or their characteristics based on stereotypes or limited information.
  • Be conscious of the implications of your language. Avoid excluding others or making people invisible by your choice of language. Avoid language and expressions that disparage or trivialize others.
  • Where possible, empower the person or group to speak for themselves. If you do need to speak on the behalf of a group of people, it is very important that you consult widely to ensure that the language you use is reflective of the group.
  • Address and remove stereotypes and myths. If someone uses inappropriate language in your presence, speak out against it and correct the inappropriate language used, if safe.

Specific ways to implement inclusive language in the workplace:

  • Ensure professional development materials in lectures and professional development settings, accurately reflect the diversity of the audience and society generally.
  • When referencing material that includes non-inclusive language, use to demonstrate that this was used by the original author and is unacceptable language.
  • When using examples in lectures or professional development workshops, avoid limiting the inclusion of people to only the area of their diversity.
  • Ensure everything you do in the work space, such as developing lecture slides, developing and maintaining websites, scheduling meetings, is accessible for a diverse audience. This includes the language used and the way it is delivered.
  • Educate yourself on cultural differences to ensure that your material and the delivery of your material are not offensive in cross-cultural communications.
  • Address and remove stereotypes or inappropriate language in all instances — including casual conversation, such as catching up over coffee or discussions in tutorials.
  • If someone uses inappropriate language in your presence, it’s good practice to use a positive, educative approach to inform the person why the language they used is inappropriate, and offer an alternative approach they could use next time.
  • Ensure that the language and the delivery of your material is accessible to a diverse audience with diverse needs.
  • Be aware of the context of the language being used. Some terms are ok to use by people as a means of claiming their identity, but are not ok, and can be seen as derogatory, when used by others.

Keep the following questions in mind when using inclusive language:

  • Is it necessary to refer to a person or groups’ personal characteristics?
  • If it is, are the references to personal characteristics couched in inclusive terms?
  • Do the references to people reflect the diversity of the intended audience, and is the material accessible to the intended audience?
  • Are you excluding people in the design and delivery of your material?

Diversity and inclusion terms you need to know for an inclusive workplace

Age and family status

This category describes how to avoid discrimination on the basis of a person’s age and/or family status.

AvoidUse
Give/given up for adoptionPlaced for adoption, birth parent chose adoption
Is adoptedWas adopted
Adoptive parentParent
Orphan(s)Child(ren) without parent(s)
Grandfather clauseLegacy, exempt from the new rule, exempted from the new rule, exempted
Master/slaveLeader/follower, primary/secondary, primary/standby, patriarch, indentured servant
Poor, blue-collarLower-income, person/people experiencing poverty, working class, wage earning
HomelessPerson/people experiencing homelessness, person/people without (a) home(s), unhoused, displaced
The hungryPerson/people experiencing food insecurity
Low-class peoplePerson/people experiencing socioeconomic difficulty
Welfare reliantPerson/people receiving government assistance
Homeless shelterPerson/people experiencing socioeconomic difficulty
Up-and-coming neighborhoodGentrified neighborhood
Spinster, old maid, maiden (as in, my maiden aunt)Person/people who is/are single, person/people who is/are unmarried, single people, unmarried people neighborhood
Divorcée, divorcé, divorceePerson/people who is/are divorced, divorced people
Normal bodyNon-disabled body
GeezerOlder person
GeriatricGeriatric
Person thatPerson who

Disability

This category describes how to avoid discrimination on the basis of a person’s disability status.

AvoidUse
The handicapped, the disabled, the differently abledPerson/people with a disability/disabilities/impediment(s)/impairment(s), person/people with a disability, neurodiverse (when referring to cognitive ability)
RetardedPerson/people with a learning disability
AddictPerson/people with an addiction
confined to a wheelchairPerson/people who use(s) a wheelchair, uses a wheelchair
Normal, healthy, whole peoplePerson/people without disabilities/impediment(s)/impairment(s), non-disabled body, neurotypical (when referring to cognitive ability)
Disabled community, disabled sportDisability community, sport for athletes with a disability
Person with a birth defectPerson/people who has/have a congenital disability/disabilities/impediment(s)/impairment(s)
Person afflicted with, suffers from, is stricken with, a victim of…Person/people who has/have… person/people who has/have been diagnosed with…
Downs person, mongoloid, mongol, mongolismPerson/people who has/have Down syndrome
The autisticPerson/people who has/have (or has been diagnosed with) autism, person/people on the autism spectrum, on the spectrum
A quadriplegic, a paraplegicPerson/people with quadriplegia, person/people with paraplegia, person/people diagnosed with a physical disability/disabilities/impediment(s)/impairment(s)
A cripple, crippledPerson/people with a physical disability/disabilities/impediment(s), person/people with a mobility impairment(s), person/people who walk(s) with crutches, person/people who use(s) a walker
DeformedDisfigurement, person/people who has a/are disfigurement/disfigured, disfigured
EpilepticPerson/people with epilepsy
A dwarf, a midgetPerson/people of short stature, little person/people
Learning disabilityLearning difference
Slow learnerPerson with a learning disability
Dumb, mute, non-verbalPerson/people who is/are unable to speak, person/people who use(s) a communication device, communicates without using words
Hearing impaired, the deafPerson/people who is/are deaf (little to no functional hearing, often communicates through sign language), person/people who is/are hard of hearing (mild to moderate hearing loss, may or may not use sign language)
The blindPerson/people who is/are blind, person/people who is/are visually impaired, person/people with low vision
Attack, spell, fitSeizure
Learning disabledPerson/people with a learning disability
Brain damagedPerson/people with a brain injury, person/people who has/have sustained a brain injury
Crazy, insane, psycho, mentally ill, emotionally disturbed, demented, nutsPerson/people diagnosed with a mental health condition, person/people with a psychiatric disability
Sanity checkQuick check, confidence check, coherence check
Special ed student, special education studentStudent(s) who receive(s) special education services
Confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair boundPerson/people who use(s) a wheelchair or a mobility chair
Handicapped parking, handicapped bathrooms, etc.Accessible parking, accessible bathrooms
Special, courageous, heroic, inspiring, bravePerson/people who adapt(s) to their disability do not necessarily acquire these traits — consider whether the individual or situation merits these terms beyond disability.

Gender identity and gender expression

This category describes how to avoid discrimination on the basis of a person’s gender identity and expression.

AvoidUse
Transgendered, a transgender (n.), transgenders, transvestite, tranny, she-male, he/she, it, shimTransgender (adj.), trans
TransgenderismBeing transgender
Gender identity disorderGender dysphoria
Biologically male/female, genetically male/female, born a man/womanAssigned male/female at birth, designated male/female at birth
Sex change, sex reassignment, sex-change operation, pre-operative, post-operativeTransition, gender affirmation
HermaphroditeIntersex
NormalNon-transgender people, cisgender
Opposite sexDifferent sex
Opposite sexLGBTQ+ community
Special rightsEqual rights, equal protection
Passing, stealth, deceptive, fooling, pretending, posing, trap, masqueradingThese terms should not be used because they promote the harmful idea that transgender people are being deceitful in their gender expression.
ActressActor
BusinessmanBusiness person
BusboyBusser
AnchormanAnchor
CavemanCave dweller
CongressmanCongressperson
CountrymanFellow citizen
CraftsmanArtisan
CrewmanCrew member
DoormanDoor attendant
FiremanFirefighter
FishermanAngler
ForefatherAncestor
ForemanSupervisor
GentlemanPerson

Non-binary pronouns

This category describes how to avoid discrimination on the basis of a person’s non-binary pronouns.

AvoidUse
ManPerson, individual
Man hoursPerson hours, engineer hours
MankindPeople, human beings, humanity
He/him/hisThey/them/their/you
The common manThe average person, folks
ChairmanChair, chairperson, coordinator, head
MailmanMail carrier, letter carrier, postal worker
PolicemanPolice officer
FemalesTo many English speakers, “females” sounds like a scientific designation one would use for animals or plants. Say “women” instead..
Girl/girlsFor anyone over 18 years old, woman or women is a better choice.

Race, ethnicity, and nationality

This category describes how to avoid discrimination on the basis of a person’s race, ethnicity, and/or nationality.

AvoidUse
Geographic descriptors interchangeably with religious or other terms to describe specific groups of people. For example, Muslim is not synonymous with Arab.With regards to nationality, avoid using citizen as a generic term for people who live in a given country.
Indian, natives, redNative American, American Indian (for groups). Individuals and/or individual tribes should be identified by tribal affiliation. Indigenous, aboriginal (for non-American), native (adj.) can be used to describe styles (e.g., native art)
EskimoAlaska Native (Eskimo refers to a specific tribe and isn’t all-inclusive)
Oriental, yellow, jap paki, flipAsian, South Asian (India, Pakistan, etc.), East Asian (China, Japan, etc.), Southeast Asian (Indonesia, Philippines, etc.), demonym (a word used for people or the inhabitants of a place) can be joined with American (e.g., Asian American or Indian American)
Exotic, hapaPacific Islander (Fijian, Guamanian, Hawaiian, Northern Mariana Islander, Palauan, Samoan, Tahitian and Tongan)
Negro, colored, n—– (this word should never be spelled out, even when quoting someone)Chair, chairperson, coordinator, head
BlacklistDenylist, blocklist, block, deny, disallow, exclude
Spanish (for people not from Spain), brownLatino/Latina/Latinx, Hispanic, Latin American, demonym (e.g., Mexican, Chilean)
Middle Eastern, Muslim (in reference to a geographic area)Given the size and diversity of the Middle Eastern region, there is not an accepted encompassing racial or ethnic term. Some more accurate localized terms include: Arab (referring to an Arabic-speaking country), Persian (referring to Farsi-speakers), North African, as well as many more country and region-specific designations.
White, Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP), redneckWhite, Caucasian, European American
WhitelistAllowlist
NonwhitePerson/people of color, Black, Indigenious, People of Color (BIPOC), African American, Latino/a American, Asian American & Native American (ALANNA)
MulattoMultiracial, biracial, mixed race
Alien(s), illegal alien(s), illegal(s)Undocumented non-citizen(s), undocumented immigrant(s), immigrant(s) undocumented immigrant(s), Undocumented
the undocumentednon-citizen(s)
JewJewish person

Sexual orientation

This category describes how to avoid discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation.

AvoidUse
Homosexual, gay (n.) (as in, He is a gay.), homo, sodomiteGay (adj.), lesbian (n. or adj.), bisexual, bi (adj. and should not be hyphenated), queer (adj.)
Homosexuality, lesbianism, gay (as a pejorative)Being gay/lesbian/bisexual/queer
Sexual preference, same-sex attractions, sexual identitySexual orientation, orientation
Gay/lesbian/bisexual lifestyleLGBTQ+ people and their lives
NormalPerson/people who is/are not gay, person/people who is/are not lesbian, person/people who is/are not bisexual, heterosexual, heteronormative (to describe norms that shut out LGBTQ+ people)
Admitted homosexual, avowed homosexual, openly gayOut, out gay man(men), out lesbian(s), out queer person/people

Business and technology

This category describes how to avoid discrimination within business and technology settings.

AvoidUse
I will pray for youI hope you are well
Slavin’Working hard
WorkaholicPerson who works a lot
That has nothing to do with meI’m sorry, I do not know how to help you with this issue.
Stop wasting my timeI believe this is not the best way for us to use our time.
I’ve got more important things to worry aboutI believe this is not the best way for us to use our time.
Personal circumstances should not affect your workHow can I help?
Leave it at homeHow can I help?
If you can’t do a better job, I’ll find someone who canIf you want, we can transfer this work to someone else.
Because I’m in chargeHere’s what I’m thinking
Get your shit togetherI think we can find more efficient ways of completing this task. Let’s sit down and discuss a few ideas.
Thank you in advanceThank you for reading
Open kimonoTransparent, open book
Killed itDid a great job, ended it
Par for the courseExpected
FumbleMistake, make a mistake
Blind-sidedUnexpectedly
Carry the ballBe responsible for
Game planPlan of action
Bases are loadedHave an advantage
Covering all the basesBeing thorough
Out of the ballparkBeyond the limit
Off baseMistaken
Play hardballBe tough
Rain checkAccept at a later time
Right off the batInstantly
Step up to the plateRespond to an opportunity
Touch baseSync, follow up, connect
Home court advantageFavorable position
Chip inContribute
Down to the wireRight at the end
Front runnerExpected to win
Into full swingComfortable with, underway, in the midst of
Let her ripGo ahead, went ahead

Politics, geopolitics, and the law

AvoidUse
LibtardLiberal
FeminaziFeminist
Tree-huggerEnvironmentalist
Is wokeIs a liberal person, is liberal
WokeratiLiberal people
Forced sexRape
AntifaAnti-fascist
Marital rapeRape

Talent management

AvoidUse
Years of experienceExperience solving, experience
Work hard play hardworking with, much experience
PathologicallyWholeheartedly support a healthy work/life balance passionately, excitedly, energetically
ObsessedPassionate about, excited about, love, energized by
Maternity/Paternity leaveFamily leave
RuthlessPersistent, determined, persevering
ObjectivesGoals, ideas, plans
ResilientFlexible, nimble, agile
AggressivePersistent, determined, persevering
CoolGreat, interesting, fascinating, compassionate, collegial, supportive
Fast-pacedRequires strong time-management skills, ability to prioritize many deadlines at once
WarriorProfessional, devoted, caring, passionate
WizardProfessional, pro, expert, fluent, adept, certified
Skin in the gameInvested, devoted
Bleeding edgeFuture, innovative, unconventional, new, high-risk, risky
Cutting edgeLatest, advanced, high-tech
Next levelLatest, advanced, high-tech
Live and breatheUphold, promote, embody, center, live by

Pssst:
Want to stamp out bias in writing and inspire a positive workplace culture?
Writer can highlight outdated terms with in-line suggestions.