The story of how language evolves is a tale as old as time, quite literally. If you were to read Chaucer’s “The Prologe of the Wyves Tale of Bathe”, written during the 14th Century, you would find the word “nonce”, which at the time meant “a word coined for a single usage”. Since then, not only has the common usage of this word changed, it has also acquired a new meaning within a completely different context. Within the context of blockchains, the word “nonce” is an abbreviation for “number used only once” - and is the first step for a blockchain miner on their journey to solving a block.
The point is that language is fluid. Even though the links may not seem intuitive at first glance, much of the way we speak to each other is relevant to the way work is done today. Language shapes our cultural environment, and how we choose to use words can greatly influence or impede progress when it comes to inclusion.
In part two of our five part series on Pride Month, we explore how workplace communication has evolved within the DEI context today.
A Glossary of Inclusive Terms
The following terms lay the ground for and build on principles of inclusivity that are essential to the workplace today. While some of these are terms that need to be used on a daily basis (such as womxn and folx), others help delineate the context within which these words took shape (for example, neurodiversity and intersectionality).
The list below is not exhaustive, however, should be a great starting point to begin implementing the use of inclusive communication in your workplace, or a helpful reference point in case you’ve already started:
Womxn: A variation on the word “woman” or “women” which creates an inclusive space for trans as well as nonbinary women. The most commonly accepted definition of the spelling hinges on the letter x, which has no definite meaning, and therefore supports gender and sexual identities that lie beyond specific understanding.
Folx: A word which implies the intent to be inclusive of marginalized communities through the inclusion of the letter x. While not referring to a specific community in particular, the new rendering seeks to rectify the traditional understanding of the word “folks”. Here, the word does not explicitly include as much as it implies an intent to be inclusive in the first place.
Latinx: Continuing the tradition of having more inclusive options of traditionally gendered terms, this term offers more possibilities than “latino” or “latina” for those with ties to Latin America.
Ally: An ally is a person who supports groups that have faced discrimination, but one who isn’t a part of these groups themselves, owing to differences in their identities. For example, this can be a heterosexual person who supports LGBTQIA rights, but can work in other contexts as well.
Nonbinary/gender fluid: A reference to gender identity which doesn’t limit itself to the binary understanding of male and female.
Intersectionality: A word that describes experiences which cut across categories of discrimination and social disadvantage. For instance, black women experience discrimination across both the gender and race axes, whereas Latinx LGBTQ youth can experience discrimination across the sexuality and race axes.
Ace: A contraction of the term “asexual”, which refers to people who do not experience sexual desire but may still have romantic feelings for other people.
Ze/Hir: A replacement for conventional he/him and she/her pronouns, these are used by transgender individuals. Ze (pronounced “zee”) is the third person singular form, whereas hir (pronounced “here”) is the possessive adjective.
Code switching: Every cultural group, based on their identity, develops a particular mode of expression called a “code”. When somebody switches their code, they change the way they express themselves (linguistically as well as in other ways) to better align with a cultural group. A good example is the way certain minority groups use language differently, to reclaim its use.
Culture add: Often, organizations talk about candidates having a certain “culture”, which ends up, unintentionally, being an excuse for discrimination - after all, not everybody comes from the same cultural background. A better approach is to talk about a “culture add”, which shifts the perspective from what a person is lacking to what a person can contribute.
Values fit: Another approach towards potential candidates in which the central concern is not their cultural background but rather the values they hold and their motivations for committing to those values.
Ageism: A discriminatory perspective through which people beyond a certain age marker are thought to be a certain type of person or possess a limited set of skills purely on the basis of their age.
Inclusive design: A design process through which a product or service can be rendered accessible for as many people as possible, including those with various disabilities.
LGBTQIA: An umbrella term, this acronym accounts for various groups including lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender, transsexual, queer, intersex and asexual populations. When the movement started it was only LGBT, then later it evolved to add the other groups - and continues to evolve today as well.
Neurodiversity: A concept that seeks to normalize differences in brain structure and chemistry as divergences, as opposed to deficits or defects. This is an inclusive understanding that levels the playing field for ADHD, autism, and other mental "disorders" to be understood differently.
Language moves with time and takes up the shapes that various cultures demand and allow. For example, in the March 2021 Update to the Oxford Dictionary (OED), some of the new words added include essential worker, gender pay gap, and ally.
It isn’t tough to imagine a time, a couple of centuries ago, when the concept of “gender pay gap” would seem as foreign as that of an “essential worker” or an “ally” - and yet, here we are. With that said, imagination, or its lack thereof, is perhaps our only barrier to inclusivity.
If we look at how history unfolded, Chaucer’s nonce has simultaneously retained its meaning and become the blockchain miner’s nonce. The same is true of words that we are using - or resisting using - today. Because of the way language evolves, inclusive workplace communication sets the foundation for a future that we can imagine, while making room for might not be visible to human imagination as yet.
Follow our five part series this Pride Month:
Part One: Accelerating LGBTQ+ inclusion with ACA
Part Two: A glossary of inclusive workplace communication
Part Four: Enabling cultural shifts with allyship