Would you ever throw a dinner party and not even think about guest allergies, or how to make your guests feel most comfortable? Of course not! You would prepare. If only we approached language the way we approach hosting a party! Often on autopilot, we don’t stop and think about the words we use and if they are inclusive or if they’re damaging them in some unseen way. Words matter and we unintentionally could be hurting others or making them feel unseen by the language we use. This not only harms our relationships, it can lead to low-performing teams, high turnover, or lack of collaboration and innovation.
Today, I have a great conversation with Dr. Suzanne Wertheim, a national expert on language and bias. Suzanne shares the fascinating story of how she got into linguistic anthropology and how it led to her current work. She attempts to define inclusive language, and why it’s more than just being politically correct: it’s vital to collaborative success and belonging. We talk about the perspective shifts required and why The Golden Rule doesn’t go far enough. And we discuss good outcomes of inclusive language and bad outcomes when you choose to ignore it. Suzanne also shares some quick tips to get you started and unpacks the principles of inclusive language.
- Language changes based on social context, particularly among minority groups.
- Inclusive language is more than just a list of words you can or cannot say. The impact of the words changes as society changes and it is not a stagnant list.
- Perspective taking is a cognitive skill – the first part is a role shift, the second is taking into account the different perspective that’s brought to the situation, because of the other person’s different lived experience.
- The word “professionalism” is often used in a very non-inclusive way to gatekeep people who are just showing up, are very competent, and are delivering high quality things on time.
“We know that we have to practice foreign languages to become fluent. So too with inclusive language: you can’t expect to just get it right away. You have to practice and make mistakes.” — Dr. Suzanne Wertheim
About Dr. Suzanne Wertheim, Language and Bias Expert:
Dr. Suzanne Wertheim is a national expert on language and bias. After getting her Ph.D. in Linguistics from Berkeley, she held faculty positions at Northwestern, University of Maryland, and UCLA. In 2011, she left the university system in order to apply her expertise to real-world problems. As head of Worthwhile Research & Consulting, Dr. Wertheim specializes in analyzing and mitigating bias at work. Using the tools of linguistic anthropology, she guides clients to more inclusive language, content, and workplaces.
Connect with Dr. Suzanne Wertheim:
LinkedIn Learning Course: Strategies to Foster Inclusive Language at Work
If you’re part of a larger organization and interested in the Executive Institute on Inclusion program Suzanne and I mentioned to create a customized DEI program based on data and your unique needs, check it out as just one offering through Susan Freeman’s amazing Conscious Inclusion Company: https://consciousinclusioncompany.com/
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