Words that welcome: inclusive language for your business
At Banter Group, we do our best to take everyone along for the ride. If you know anything about our CEO Valentina Borbone, you probably already know about her commitment to diversity in the workplace. That makes for a team with a wide range of life experience and a deep well to draw on when we’re brainstorming. Also: it’s so much fun!
Writing for welcome – for inclusivity – has long been a passion of mine.
I’m not talking about being politically correct for the sake of it, or protecting your brand from the keyboard warriors (although that is something to think about!) I’m talking about inviting everyone in to hear your story.
After all… if you run a shop or a cafe, you naturally make sure you have wheelchair access, and a safe spot for little ones, and processes to help people who are hard of hearing. It’s natural, and it makes good business sense, right? You can apply the same sorts of principles when you’re writing for your business.
Terms like “writing for inclusivity” and “inclusive language that respects diversity” can seem a bit daunting. And sometimes businesses trying to do the right thing set off the PC alarmists. Regardless, using welcome words is incredibly important. And it can be easy.
The goal is simply to make people feel welcome.
I feel like this is a good spot for a definition. Hubspot puts it well:
“Inclusive language is the words and phrases you use that avoid biases, slang, and expressions that discriminate against groups of people based on race, gender, socioeconomic status, and ability. When used, you can resonate with more audiences by speaking and writing in ways that everyone understands and makes everyone feel welcome.”
Here are my top 5 tips for businesses who are keen to use words that welcome.
1 – Add an Acknowledgement of Country
Why? It’s respectful. It says, ‘Hey, First Nations people. We see you. We recognise that we’re on a path to Reconciliation, and that’s cool. This is one small thing our business can do to help.’
You can copy and paste from Reconciliation Australia’s recommended wording:
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognise the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.
Or you can take a couple more steps (and we recommend you do!)
It’s best practice to include the name of the Traditional Owners. If you can personalise the snippet with words that mean something to you and your community, that’s even better. For example, Banter’s digital Acknowledgement of Country says:
Banter Group acknowledges the Gundungurra people as the Traditional Owners of the land on which our agency stands. We extend this respect to all First Nations peoples, including Elders past, present and future.
An important note on this topic… what you’re reading is gleaned knowledge from a non-Indigenous word nerd who knows her way around authoritative resources. I found this blog post by Dharawal writer Danika Davies extremely helpful.
2 – Ask (Don’t guess)
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that it’s always worth asking the question. In fact, I can still hear my journalism lecturer practically singing, ‘If you’re wondering, chances are 99% of the people in the room are wondering too. So ask the question!’
- If you’ve received a gorgeous testimonial from ‘Lesley’, and you need to use a pronoun, find a way to ask if Lesley prefers ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’.
- Same with titles. I’m married, but I prefer Ms. If you need to write me a letter and you don’t know my title, just ask – or skip the title altogether. (PS, Please don’t write me a letter, though; email is great!)
- If a client invites you to meet their partner, keep your options open until you know what gender-identity they adopt. That is, reply with: “Sure, I’d love to meet your partner!”
I’m a big fan of Australian musician G-Flip. In this interview with Triple J’s Hack, they give helpful tips on why it’s okay to ask about pronouns, and what to do when you get it wrong.
3 – Use person-first language
This one’s pretty easy – I bet you can already give yourself a gold star. When you’re writing about a person, remember that’s what they are first – a person. (See – easy, right?!) They might be a person with a disability, or a person living with homelessness, or a person who uses a wheelchair, or a person with a lived experience of mental illness.
I’m not going to include the old-fashioned alternatives here, because I reckon you’ve got it. In case you want a bit of a brush-up, though, check out this great piece by the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations on the social, rather than medical, model of disability.
4 – Use plain English (it’s a thing)
We know you want to be impressive. We know you want to stand out from the crowd.
And… we know that sometimes your compelling emotions create a desire to exploit the contemporary language you heard at a recent internationally significant conference, with the intention of signalling to your competitors that you are a cutting-edge industry insider with strong capabilities in the utilisation of buzzwords, UMAOA*, instantaneous jargon deployability and distinctive corporate wankspeak that distinguishes your unique business offering to a discerning audience.
* UMAOA: Unnecessary, Made-up And Off-putting Acronyms
Here’s the thing: people are busy! They don’t have time to read between the lines!
Also: some of your people don’t even have English as a first language! I reckon you don’t want to leave them out.
When they first discover you, your audience wants to know what you do, how you do it, and where they can go for more info.
Welcome them with the language they use.
First, use the words you’d use to describe your business to your neighbour or your old school friend you haven’t seen for a while. Tell them what you do.
Then you may use the big words (if you must).
5 – Avoid gendered language
Some egregious examples: man up, old wives tale, grow a pair, throw like a girl, have a boy’s look.
And a couple more for good measure (our pet hates at Banter Group): girl boss, mumpreneur.
I suspect that, seeing as you’ve read this far, you’re not likely to use outdated, gendered cliches like this in your writing. Good on you.
Just keep your eye open for any gendered language that sends a signal that you’re not talking to everyone.
Need a laugh and a spot of encouragement? I greatly enjoyed this excoriating column by the delightful Richard Glover on why we need to put gendered language in the past.
Bonus tip: publish in other formats
These days, there are so many options to get your message across. Banter is a marketing agency that works with the written word, visual design and photography, 3D animation, video, podcasts and more. If you work in a small business and you don’t have the resources to produce multimedia alternatives to everything you do, that is absolutely fine.
But if you’ve taken the time to produce content, there are some simple things you can do to make sure people of all abilities can access it. Here are some options to re-purpose your content:
- Use a text to voice plug-in on your website
- Use auto-captions on your social media platforms
- Transcribe your video or your podcast
- If you’ve designed an awesome infographic, don’t forget to use alt text (actually, don’t ever forget to use alt text!)
Want to learn more? I’m so pleased!
The Commonwealth Style Manual is the guide for anyone who writes for a government agency. Its section on accessible and inclusive content is well-considered and written in plain English. Check it out here.
Looking for a deep dive? Try the Conscious Style Guide.
The Plain English Foundation runs training programs to help professionals get to the point.
Love etymology? One of my faves is Wordslut by Amanda Montell.
And if you’d like a bit of help giving your business copy a once-over, Banter Group is here for you!