Diversity and inclusion
    in the workplace

    Top diversity and inclusion terms you need to know for an inclusive workplace


    Why does inclusive language matter?

    Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) language is 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, or 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.

    Need a diversity equity and inclusion messaging strategy?
    Read our definitive guide to getting your tone in writing right — right now.

    Age and family status guidelines for inclusive language

    Don’t say Do say
    • give/given up for adoption
    • placed for adoption, birth parent chose adoption
    • is adopted
    • was adopted
    • adoptive parent
    • parent
    • grandfather clause
    • legacy
      Here’s why: The term ”grandfather clause” originated as a way to defy the 15th amendment and prevent Black Americans from voting.
    • give/given up for adoption
    • placed for adoption, birth parent chose adoption
    • is adopted
    • was adopted
    • adoptive parent
    • parent
    • grandfather clause
    • legacy
      Here’s why: The term ”grandfather clause” originated as a way to defy the 15th amendment and prevent Black Americans from voting.
    • master/slave
    • Leader/follower, primary/replica, primary/standby
    • poor, blue-collar
    • lower-income
    • homeless


    • people experiencing homelessness, people without homes
    • spinster, old maid, maiden (as in, my maiden aunt)


    • person who is single, person who is unmarried
    • divorcée, divorcé, divorcee


    • person who is divorced

    Disability guidelines for inclusive language

    Don’t say Do say
    • the handicapped, the disabled, the differently abled
    • people with disabilities
    • normal, healthy, whole people
    • people without disabilities, neurotypical (when referring to cognitive ability)
    • disabled community, disabled sport
    • disability community, sport for athletes with a disability
    • person with a birth defect
    • person who has a congenital disability
    • person afflicted with, suffers from, is stricken with, a victim of...
    • person who has… and person who has been diagnosed with...
    • Downs person, mongoloid, mongol
    • person who has Down syndrome
    • the autistic
    • person who has (or has been diagnosed with) autism, person on the autism spectrum, on the spectrum
    • a quadriplegic, a paraplegic
    • person with quadriplegia, person with paraplegia, person diagnosed with a physical disability
    • a cripple
    • person with a physical disability, person with a mobility impairment, person who walks with crutches, person who uses a walker
    • a dwarf, a midget
    • person of short stature, little person
    • dumb, mute, non-verbal
    • person who is unable to speak, person who uses a communication device, communicates without using words
    • hearing impaired, the deaf
    • person who is deaf (little to no functional hearing, often communicates through sign language), person who is hard of hearing (mild to moderate hearing loss, may or may not use sign language)
    • the blind
    • people who are blind, people who are visually impaired, people who have low vision
    • attack, spell, fit
    • seizure
    • learning disabled
    • person with a learning disability
    • brain damaged
    • person with a brain injury, person who has sustained a brain injury
    • crazy, insane, psycho, mentally ill, emotionally disturbed, demented, nuts
    • person diagnosed with a mental health condition, person with a psychiatric disability
    • sanity check
    • Quick check, confidence check, coherence check
    • special ed student, special education student
    • student who receives special education services
    • confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound
    • person who uses a wheelchair or a mobility chair
    • handicapped parking, handicapped bathrooms, etc.
    • accessible parking, accessible bathrooms, etc.
    • special, courageous, heroic, inspiring, brave
    • People who adapt 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 guidelines for inclusive language

    Don’t say Do say
    • transgendered, a transgender (n.), transgenders, transvestite, tranny, she-male, he/she, it, shim
    • transgender (adj.), trans
    • transgenderism
    • being transgender
    • gender identity disorder
    • gender dysphoria
    • biologically male/female, genetically male/female, born a man/woman
    • assigned male/female at birth, designated male/female at birth
    • sex change, sex reassignment, sex-change operation, pre-operative, post-operative
    • transition, gender affirmation
    • hermaphrodite
    • intersex
    • normal
    • non-transgender people, cisgender
    • opposite sex
    • different sex
    • opposite sex
    • LGBTQ+ community
    • special rights
    • equal rights, equal protection
    • passing, stealth, deceptive, fooling, pretending, posing, trap, masquerading
    • These terms should not be used because they promote the harmful idea that transgender people are being deceitful in their gender expression.

    Non-binary pronouns

    Don’t say Do say
    • man
    • person, individual
    • man hours
    • person hours, engineer hours
    • mankind
    • people, human beings, humanity
    • he/him/his
    • they/them/their
    • freshman
    • first-year student
    • man-made
    • machine-made, synthetic, artificial
    • the common man
    • the average person, folks
    • chairman
    • chair, chairperson, coordinator, head
    • mailman
    • mail carrier, letter carrier, postal worker
    • policeman
    • police officer
    • Females
    • To many English speakers, “females” sounds like a scientific designation one would use for animals or plants. Say “women” instead..
    • Girl/girls
    • For anyone over 18 years old, woman or women is a better choice.

    Race, ethnicity, and nationality language guidelines for inclusivity

    Don’t say Do say
    • 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, red
    • Native American, American Indian (for groups). Individuals 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)
    • Eskimo
    • Alaska Native (Eskimo refers to a specific tribe and isn’t all-inclusive)
    • oriental, yellow, jap paki, flip
    • Asian, 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, hapa
    • Pacific 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)
    • Black, African American
    • blacklist
    • denylist
    • Spanish (for people not from Spain), brown
    • Latino/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.
    • WASP, redneck
    • white, Caucasian, European American
    • whitelist
    • allowlist
    • nonwhite
    • people/person of color
    • mulatto
    • multiracial, biracial, mixed race
    • alien
    • immigrant

    Sexual orientation guidelines for inclusive language

    Don’t say Do say
    • homosexual, gay (n.) (as in, He is a gay.), homo, sodomite
    • gay (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 identity
    • sexual orientation, orientation
    • gay/lesbian/bisexual lifestyle
    • LGBTQ+ people and their lives
    • normal
    • people who are not gay, people who are not lesbian, people who are not bisexual, heterosexual, heteronormative (to describe norms that shut out LGBTQ+ people)
    • admitted homosexual, avowed homosexual, openly gay
    • out, out gay man, out lesbian, out queer person


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