Article by Hannah Leske.
The concept of diversity, equity, and inclusion — or DEI, as it’s often referred to — has been gaining traction with employers in recent years. It is increasingly recognized as an essential building block for successful organizations, but it can be hard to know where to start on your DEI journey.
As a topic that can only be appropriately discussed by addressing already sensitive topics such as oppression and discrimination, just broaching the issue can be daunting, and navigating a DEI-related discussion can sometimes feel like a minefield. To further complicate matters, the topic has become increasingly politically loaded as it has gained prominence in public discourse. Disagreement and debate, conflicting opinions, and misconceptions run rampant.
Well, it’s time to end all that stress because Nimdzi has gone back to the basics: DEI edition. We’ve pulled together Google’s most frequently asked questions about DEI in language and done our best to answer them for you. So, without further ado, let’s jump in!
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are values that seek to increase awareness and support for people of differing backgrounds.
Diversity is about who is represented. Common examples include gender identity, age, ethnic background, physical ability, and neurodivergence, but diversity can also refer to differences in sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, parental status, and everything in between.
Equity is about fair treatment. When it comes to DEI policies, equity considerations should ensure that identity is not predictive of success by promoting impartiality and fairness across the board. As a side note, it’s important to remember that equity ≠ equality. Equality means giving everyone the same support to access the same opportunities, while equity means adjusting the goalposts and support systems to ensure that the end result is equal for each individual.
Inclusion refers to how people are treated. Inclusive policies help everyone to feel welcome and foster a sense of belonging. Inclusion is hard to define in writing, as it is influenced by individual interactions just as much as it is impacted by policies and goals. That said, workplaces can help foster inclusivity by defining expectations, ensuring guidelines are followed, and setting positive examples.
DEI policies create a more just society, in which everyone has the support to contribute fully. It’s been well-documented that individuals are more productive and engaged when they feel represented and involved, and diverse communities are more likely to be open-minded and accepting of different world views.
Strong DEI initiatives within a workplace have also been linked to positive business outcomes. Research shows that individual performance and overall profitability are significantly higher in companies with higher gender, ethnic, and cultural diversity. Among other things, this is driven by increased access to skilled talent and better employee engagement. Virtually all quantifiable data shows that investing in DEI initiatives pays off in the long run.
Raising awareness for DEI in the workplace also has broader social benefits. While we certainly can’t argue that all organizations have nailed diversity yet, workspaces and offices are usually comparatively more diverse than family or friendship circles, religious groups, sports clubs, or other social networks. By introducing DEI in corporate spaces, we increase the likelihood that these ideas are transferred into more homogeneous spaces as well.
According to the Collins English Dictionary, inclusive language is “language that avoids the use of certain expressions or words that might be considered to exclude particular groups of people.” Far be it from us to correct the writers of the dictionary, but we think this one definition falls a little short. The Linguistic Society of America (LSA) looks at inclusive language more holistically, summarizing it as “language that acknowledges diversity, conveys respect to all people, is sensitive to differences, and promotes equal opportunities.” Together, the two definitions form helpful guidelines for anyone trying to wrap their head around what inclusive language is and how to use it.
Avoiding terms or tones that exclude, marginalize or discriminate against individuals or groups is important, but using language that actively promotes positive outcomes — diversity, respect, equal opportunities, and a sense of belonging — is just as critical.
Some rudimentary examples of inclusive language include:
Of course, this barely scratches the surface, and often just swapping out keywords or phrases isn’t enough. Inclusive language must also consider intent and delivery. For example, personal attributes should only be referenced when directly relevant to the context, and language should focus on strengths rather than deficits and degroup identifiers from the person. “Person with a disability” distances the individual from their mental or physical ability, just as “person experiencing homelessness” emphasizes the person first and their situation second. Finally, it is important to ask individuals about their language preferences and respect their wishes.
Although many organizations may acknowledge the importance of DEI, numerous obstacles can prevent them from making any significant progress. Overcoming these barriers requires identifying them, understanding their underlying causes, and taking proactive measures to address them.
Unconscious bias is one of the most fundamental barriers to DEI. Most people are inherently drawn to others that look like them or come from similar backgrounds, and these automatic judgments influence workplace interactions, hiring decisions, and more. Informal mentoring can be problematic for this reason, as managers may unconsciously hinder equity and inclusion efforts by mentoring employees who are most similar to themselves. Overcoming biases requires education, but mandating or recommending that managers choose a diverse group of mentees can also equalize access to opportunities for all.
Lack of support, especially from managers and executives, can also hinder progress. DEI is not one-dimensional and cannot be successful when driven solely by a handful of advocates. Executives often need to approve new policies, and managers at all levels must be on board with initiatives and lead by example to resolve deep-seated cultural issues.
Finally, good intentions alone are not enough. To make tangible change, organizations need to set measurable goals and trackable metrics that allow them to monitor long-term progress.
Anyone in our industry is undoubtedly familiar with the concept of tailoring communication to enhance the experience for target audiences. After all, we’ve basically just described localization. But nowadays, using the right language means more than choosing between English, French, Mandarin, or Arabic. If the ultimate goal of localization is to increase engagement with target audiences — be that in-house staff or customers — it’s a no-brainer that the language used should resonate with as many people as possible. Companies that don’t consider diversity, equity, and inclusivity will, at best, limit their reach to a smaller audience and, at worst, actively polarize potential customers.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to global applications of inclusive language and DEI initiatives, though. To start with, inclusive language varies not only from language to language but also from locale to locale. Cultural sensitivities are often shaped by history and society, so terms acceptable in one country may not be acceptable in another, even where the same language is used. Language guidelines can’t necessarily be rolled out globally; they should consider each region's unique experiences and cultural backgrounds. Further, public reception to diversity, equity, and inclusion can vary significantly worldwide. In some countries, audiences expect it (and will call out companies that fall short!), but the concept may still be scorned in other regions.
In short, DEI and inclusive language are influenced by locale just as much as location should influence the adoption and implementation of DEI concepts. Neither should exist without the other if global companies want to reach their full potential.
We will continue to see a rise in the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion — both in internal policies and in companies’ external branding — so companies can’t afford to look the other way right now.
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