How to Choose the Right Words
Selecting the appropriate language isn’t always straightforward, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating, either.
Gannett Fleming encourages the use of inclusive language, and here are some tips to help choose the right words.
Come from a place of respect and remember that not all information is your business.
For instance, asking someone, “Where are you from?” may seem innocent, but it’s a personal question that can make some people feel like an outsider that doesn’t fit in. Remember to be mindful of the context and language you use.
Daniela Kleinfeldt, secretary of the Communities of Color at Gannett Fleming steering committee, added, “As a Latina woman in a predominantly white, male-dominated industry, I’ve learned that identity is not a label assigned to us but a story we choose to share. Born in the U.S. and raised in Latin America, I proudly embrace my heritage and identify as Latina.”
Ask the person how they prefer to identify and be open to feedback.
This is the best way to guarantee you are using the correct term that is not offensive. For instance, inquiring about what pronouns someone uses is a way to ensure you don’t misgender them, which can be hurtful and invalidating. Though it may seem like a small act of respect, it makes a significant difference.
Do your research and don’t always rely on the underrepresented group to educate you.
Many resources are available to increase your knowledge of cultural diversity terms, like the Diversity Style Guide or The University of Texas at Austin’s “Ethnicity, Place of Origin, and Race” guidelines.
Honor the person’s self-identification even if you don’t understand why they use a particular term.
Some people may view the word “queer” as offensive, as historically and still to this day, it can be utilized in a derogatory way. However, some in the LGBTQ+ community have reclaimed the term, with many people choosing to identify as queer, such as our own Jess Weron, a member of the LGBTQ+ at Gannett Fleming steering committee.
“To me, the term ‘queer’ encompasses all identities within the LGBTQ+ community,” said Weron. “I prefer to identify as queer because it is less restrictive and more liberating, and even more so because we’ve reclaimed a word that can be used as a hateful term. I feel it allows for more fluidity and represents greater openness to partners of all identities.”
If unsure, err on the side of caution and use a more general, neutral term.
This includes terms like Latinx, LGBTQ+, or the pronoun “they.”
“We all know the benefit of a supportive word or the damage an insulting word can do,” added Joelle Shea, chair of the Connected Women steering committee. “By being mindful of what we are saying, we can build meaningful relationships and continue to change the culture for the better. And by being vulnerable and proactively asking a colleague or friend about language choice or apologizing if you think you missed the mark, you can demonstrate empathy and build deep trust.”
Building relationships and trust with your peers is of benefit to both the individual and the team. Research shows that inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time, and according to another study, such teams bring in 1.4 times higher revenues. Simply put, when people feel and are included, it makes a difference in their personal and professional lives.