The Inclusive Language Handbook

A Guide to Better Communication and Transformational Leadership

What is Inclusive Language?

Inclusive language is finding ways to name and show respect for all people’s experiences and identities. It means making intentional word choices that are respectful and welcoming and consciously avoiding discriminatory terms and phrases that have become part of mainstream and daily language habits. Changing our word choices to be more inclusive helps us understand the ways we often unconsciously make assumptions about people. It also helps us recognize how language unintentionally reinforces unspoken cultural rules around gender, sexual orientation, race, class, ability, age, and more – in many different ways and circumstances.

Using inclusive language is not the same thing as being politically correct. Political correctness is focused on not offending. Inclusive language is a way to show you value the unique cultures, communities, and identities of all people. Even though both highlight that there are certain things you shouldn’t say, political correctness often creates barriers that prevent people from engaging, whereas inclusive language encourages you to connect and communicate with everyone. It spotlights education, dialogue, and continued learning through practice.

Why Inclusive Language Matters

The words we use to communicate are a direct reflection of how we view the world. Sometimes we choose our words intentionally. Other times, we may not be fully aware of what our word choices imply. 

For any communication to land effectively, we must be sure our good intentions match our word choices. The greatest benefit of learning inclusive language is that you can gain confidence communicating with – or referring to – anyone. 

No matter who you are or the work you do, your word choices matter. Whether you are a business owner interacting with customers; an executive leading employees with diverse backgrounds; a marketer, a speaker, or a writer who communicates for a living, inclusive language matters to your personal and professional success. 

Thoughtfully chosen words can be powerful relationship builders, while ill-chosen or unthinking comments can alienate and offend. In the workplace specifically, repeating harmful language over time leads to a toxic culture, high turnover, and a damaged reputation.

How Can Inclusive Language Make a Difference in Our Culture and in Our Workplaces

It Fosters Diversity
It Fosters Diversity

In its most fundamental form, inclusive language focuses on the human element of all communication. It rejects the false ideas of normality and deviation, which lead us to believe that some people, identities, or experiences are ‘normal’ while others are not. This, in turn, builds a culture where everyone can belong.

It Helps microaggression
It helps eliminate microaggressions

Microaggressions are slights, snubs, and typically casual, inadvertent insults. They’re often unintentional, but they’re also pervasive, and they directly contribute to a sense of exclusion, inequality, and separation. Inclusive language counteracts these subtle acts of rejection, which are proven to have a cumulative effect on mental health, productivity, and problem-solving.

It Prevents Harm
It prevents harm to others

Exclusive, insensitive, or discriminatory language often causes pain and derision. Using non-inclusive language at work -- or outside of work -- can damage relationships, alienate people, and present an inaccurate view of what you think, value, and believe.

Understanding and practicing inclusive language will help your organization build and retain a diverse, productive, loyal, and dynamic team, and customer base. By committing to use the most respectful terms – and keep learning them as they evolve – you’ll be rewarded with stronger, more trusting relationships and a more enjoyable work environment. Your leadership as an inclusive communicator will help to build a healthy company culture where every person feels welcomed, accepted, and empowered to succeed.

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A Unique Resource

The Inclusive Language Handbook is unique in that it provides:

Context

Clear explanations of why inclusive language is necessary and the benefits it delivers

Practice

Workbook exercises that give you a safe space to practice and prepare

Insights

Real-world, industry-specific guidance from organization leaders in technology, retail, manufacturing, real estate, hospitality, healthcare, and more

About The Book

This handbook will help you get comfortable addressing diverse audiences and discussing all aspects of diversity and inclusion. Using this handbook, you will:

  • Learn how to consistently use respectful language that promotes belonging, productivity, and teamwork. 
  • Discover professional best practices for choosing words that help every individual feel valued and motivated. 
  • Find out how to drive positive culture change by spreading the practice of inclusive language throughout your community and organization.

Not Just Another “How To” Guide

The Diversity Movement created this handbook to provide practical, real-world tips and industry-specific insights that will help you use more effective, inclusive language and foster a diverse and inclusive culture. 

You will have the opportunity to: 

  • Explore the what, how, and why of inclusive language. 
  • Learn six essential guidelines for respectful word choice.
  • Understand and avoid common pitfalls that will alienate and offend.
  • Discover best practices for inclusive language regarding gender, sexuality, religion, disability, neurodiversity, physicality, and more. 
  • Gain valuable practice communicating about diverse identities.
  • Find out how to build an inclusive culture through respectful language.

About the Authors

Jackie Ferguson

Jackie Ferguson, CDE, is Head of Content & Programming and co-founder of The Diversity Movement. Known globally for its groundbreaking diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programming that drives real-world business results, the company was named to Inc. Magazine’s 2021 Best in Business List in DE&I Advocacy. Ferguson, a Certified Diversity Expert (CDE), oversees a team of writers, editors, and visual storytellers that create industry-leading content, as well as world-class educational and digital learning resources. 

A noted writer and subject matter expert, Ferguson hosts Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox, a podcast rated as one of the top 5% in diversity podcasts to follow globally. She is a member of the Forbes Business Council, National Diversity Council, and is published in Forbes, Almanac, and other publications. Ferguson is an in-demand keynote speaker on diversity and belonging topics. She is an alumna of the University of South Florida and lives in a quaint town in North Carolina with her husband and daughter. 

Roxanne Bellamy

Roxanne Bellamy, CDE, is Managing Editor at The Diversity Movement, ensuring that the company’s world-class content is accurate, actionable, and trustworthy. She believes words shape reality. A writer’s job, especially regarding DEI, is to put the best words in the best order to shape the best reality. A recognized thought leader, Bellamy’s work centers on contributing with integrity to the ever-evolving conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion and workplace culture. 

A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and Cambridge University, Bellamy studied English, linguistics, and anthropology. In her earlier career, she worked as a writer across several industries, including retail, manufacturing, craft beer, education, and hospitality. Bellamy is also a mother, wife, sister, daughter, and athlete. 

What Readers Are Saying About the Book

Retail is about welcoming people and making them feel they want to be part of your business. That spirit is grounded in the language we use, so getting educated on inclusive language is a game changer for retailers. The Inclusive Language Handbook by Jackie Ferguson and Roxanne Bellamy is a must-read for leaders who want to understand how to excel in today’s competitive environment and work toward a more equitable society.

-Philip H. Kowalczyk, Advisor to Retail Executives and Former President and CEO; The Body Shop, Talbots, J. Jill, and The Robert Allen Group

As someone who was voted “most talkative” in high school, my friends will tell you I’m never at a loss for words. Even so, I sometimes wonder if the words I’m choosing accurately reflect my values or the respect I have for others, but I don’t always know who to ask. That’s why I’m a big fan of The Inclusive Language Handbook. It’s a resource I use repeatedly to help me choose words that put people first.

-Karen Albritton, American Marketing Association Board of Directors, Chair, 2021-22

Almost every company in every sector has become a technology company. And technology leaders have a responsibility to respond to -and shape- the business culture in which we live and work. The Inclusive Language Handbook provides clear guidance on how to embrace inclusive language, a key step to help overcome some of the tech industry’s intrinsic biases. This is a go-to resource for leaders who want to improve workplace culture and regain trust.

-Bob Osmond, President, Racepoint Global

Don’t Wait, Preorder Your Copy Today!

The Inclusive Language Handbook provides practical, real-world insights and industry-specific guidance to help you use more effective, inclusive language and foster a diverse and inclusive culture.

Preorder your copy to unlock access to exclusive resources!