Ten tips for more inclusive communication

News articles
Topics Inclusion

Last year, DCA released new research and a series of guides on how language can be used to include or exclude people in the workplace.

It has really resonated with our members so we have collated a list of 10 recommendations on how to respond to common questions our members have raised over the last eight months.

1: Proper identification
Always capitalise 'Indigenous' and 'Aboriginal' when you're referring to Indigenous Australians. It’s a proper noun that requires a capital letter.  Think of it the same way you would ‘French’ or ‘Malaysian’.

2: Better to ask than guess
If you’re not sure what pronouns someone uses, it’s better to ask than to guess. Misgendering transgender people in the media is so common that the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has released a new guide for journalists to highlight possible language pitfalls. Although it is pitched at reporters, it is just as applicable for everyday use.

3: What does LGBTI stand for?
What do all the letters in the LGBTI+ acronym stand for and why is it getting longer? The most common expression in Australia is LGBTI which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex. However, this acronym doesn’t include the full range of sexual orientations and gender identities. Adding a plus sign (LGBTI+) can be more inclusive.  This article explains some of the other definitions you might see or hear. 

4: Intersex?
What is intersex? The United Nations explains that ‘Intersex people are born with biological sex characteristics that don’t fit typical definitions of male and female. Up to 1.7 percent of babies are born with sex characteristics that don’t fit typical definitions of male and female. That makes being intersex almost as common as being a redhead!’

Remember language is a powerful tool for building inclusion and exclusion at work. The things we say and write affect to what extent team members feel valued and respected and able to contribute their talents to drive organisational performance. For more comprehensive advice please see our #WordsAtWork resources for DCA members.  In-house workshops on inclusive language are also available.

5: Disability vs accessibility
What is the difference between an Accessibility Action Plan and Disability Action Plans? Accessibility improves access for everyone. As the Australian Network on Disability explains:  'An Accessibility Action Plan (AAP) is the most widely accepted term for what used to be known as Disability Action Plans. Many leading organisations now use the term Accessibility Action Plan.' The same goes for parking and toilets. Shifting your focus from the person and their disability to the work environment’s accessibility ensures the focus is on providing a workplace environment that is accessible to and inclusive of all people – with and without disabilities/impairments.

6: Assumptions based on appearance
Asking “Where are you from?” or saying “Gee, your English is good” to people whose physical appearance, accent or name suggest they are ‘foreign’ can lead to the person feeling different to and set apart from other Australians. Remember, someone’s appearance, accent or name is not a reliable guide to their being 'Australian' or not. To learn about the power of this simple question, try viewing Ken Tanaka and David Neptune’s YouTube clip Where Are You From? 

7: Man, person or object?
Using the term Chairman rather that Chairperson or Chair can reinforce the idea that leaders are always men. Just recently, a major study revealed the impact that gender notions have on the career ambitions of girls as young as six. Using other words such as Chair, Chairperson, Convener, Coordinator or Leader is more inclusive of everyone. 

8: Quiet observances
What is the difference between a ‘Prayer Room’ and a ‘Reflection Room’? Many leading organisations have a dedicated, comfortable space for individual or communal worship, or simple reflection during the workday. This is meaningful to employees who practice a religion requiring prayer at specific times (e.g. Muslims and Orthodox Jews) as well as to non-religious employees who simply seek time to meditate or reflect. The Tanenbaum organisation based in the US recommends calling such spaces a “Quiet Room” (as opposed to a “Meditation Room” or a “Prayer Room”) in order to be inclusive of both believers and those who may wish to use the room but do not consider themselves religious or spiritual.

9: Why 'Welcome to Country'?
"Do we need a ‘Welcome to Country’ or can we just play a DVD?" A Welcome to Country is a ceremony performed by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people to welcome visitors to their traditional land. An Acknowledgement of Country is a way that a non-Indigenous person can show awareness of and respect for the traditional Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander owners of the land on which a meeting or event is being held. Reconciliation Australia has prepared this excellent resource on the importance and significance of these cultural protocols.

10: Where are her kids?
"Why doesn’t Gladys Berejiklian have children?" Ok, obviously no DCA member would ever ask this. But the fact that reporters asked NSW’s first Liberal Premier this just last week, is a reminder of how women continue to be judged by standards that don’t seem to apply to men. When Bob Carr was Premier of NSW, did he get asked why he didn’t have children? No, because it wasn’t relevant to his ability to do the job! This is why inclusive language continues to be so important!

Remember language is a powerful tool for building inclusion and exclusion at work. The things we say and write affect to what extent team members feel valued and respected and able to contribute their talents to drive organisational performance. For more comprehensive advice please see our #WordsAtWork resources for DCA members.  In-house workshops on inclusive language are also available.