Posted 24.01.20

Diversity and inclusion programmes can sometimes appear to stakeholders (who aren’t directly involved with planning or implementing them) as high-level, strategic changes that won’t directly affect the way they work or behave. 

If delivered incorrectly, they can feel irrelevant, unnecessary, or even personally challenging, as existing employees wonder why they need to change in order to meet a company target.

Why do diversity programmes matter?

Small changes to language and behaviour, which can be addressed as part of a team-level discussion of business culture, can not only make an environment more welcoming to a wider range of people but also help team members to understand why diversity and inclusion are important to individuals, as well as to their employers.

This is not to suggest that a bit of inclusive language can fix a toxic workspace, or that one small change will deliver a business’s diversity goals single-handedly, but it does make a difference. 

As the sole woman in more than one WhatsApp chat, I can’t tell you the number of times I have been addressed by “Hello gents,” or “Right lads.” Does it ruin my day? Of course not. But would I prefer that they had considered me before posting a message that effectively erased my membership of the group? Definitely.

And it’s very clear that language and naming matters. Shakespeare’s rose might have smelled just as sweet with any other name, but in the last week alone I have seen two separate social media articles about how annoying it is when someone responds to an email with the wrong name. 

We are sensitive to, and understand, the sense of frustration that arises from one type of misidentification, but consider others to be trivial. But the easiest way to make someone feel seen and welcomed is to correctly address them.

What can be done to make a difference?

So, some practical tips. Do you usually address groups of people as “guys” or “gents”? Try “folks” or “people.” “Ladies and gentlemen” has its origins in both class and gender discrimination, so avoid those connotations by using “all,” or “everyone.” 

Hypothetical examples similarly don’t need to be gendered; it can be tempting to give a name to an example to make it feel relatable or accessible, but often this can have the opposite effect.

These changes may seem small or insignificant, but the smallest changes can have the biggest effects!

Questions? Comments? Your stories about appraisals, successful or otherwise? Get in touch with Helen Addis | helen.addis@cordantrecruitment.com

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