WordsAtWork: Building Inclusion through the Power of Language

News articles
Topics Inclusion

Diversity Council Australia has launched a new campaign to promote greater understanding of the role that language can play in workplace cultures and the benefits that can flow from more inclusive language.

David Morrison AO, DCA Chair, who appears in the campaign video #WordsAtWork, said language plays a critical role in shaping workplace cultures.

“For some time I have been advocating that everyone in our society, from all genders, races creeds, ages, disabilities, religions or sexual orientations, be given a chance to achieve their potential.

“Unfortunately, in many workplaces, this isn’t always the case. People use language to denigrate others and to take away their self-respect. Sometimes it happens unconsciously, but the effect is the same.

“DCA’s new campaign is not about being ‘politically correct’ – it is about encouraging people to use language at work which is respectful, accurate, and relevant to everyone,” said David.

Why language matters:

Language is a powerful tool for building inclusion at work. It can be used to create a sense of being valued, respected and one of the team (included) or of being under-valued, disrespected, and an ‘outsider’ (excluded).

Research demonstrates that inclusive cultures are high performing cultures – they deliver greater performance and productivity.  How we speak to and about each other influences how we treat each other, and this builds our workplace cultures. Studies show that:

  • Non-inclusive language contributes to and continues stereotyping
  • Non-inclusive language harms people who witness it as well as the intended targets
  • When used in job interviews, non-inclusive language results in applicants from excluded groups finding the position less attractive, and experiencing less motivation and identification with the position than those who are exposed to inclusive language
  • Non-inclusive comments in the workplace can have an insidious effect on individuals from the excluded groups, impeding their advancement at work by presenting them as incompetent and not suitable for leadership roles
  • Frequent non-inclusive experiences at work have just as harmful effects as more intense but less frequent experiences (e.g. sexual coercion and harassment)
  • Non-inclusive jokes can lead to tolerance of hostile feelings and discrimination against people from excluded groups.

New tools for workplaces:

DCA has developed a campaign video and series of guides for workplaces to show how inclusive language can improve workplace culture and drive productivity.

In speaking with businesses across the country, DCA CEO Lisa Annese has noticed that workplaces are struggling to find guidance on how best to encourage more inclusive language.

“Day in day out, workplace culture is created every time there is an interaction between two individuals.  Language is the fabric that underpins these interactions and it can either contribute to inclusion or lead to exclusion. In these days of social media, we are surrounded by wall to wall chatter. You could say that words have never been more important. 

“DCA’s new tools will help organisations build more inclusive workplaces which can result in benefits like improved productivity and profitability, greater creativity and innovation, higher employee wellbeing and engagement and reduced employee turnover, to name just a few. For employers this means very concrete bottom line financial benefits,” said Lisa.

Aurecon’s Global Chief Executive Officer, Giam Swiegers, said inclusive language is key to creating diverse and inclusive workplaces.

“At Aurecon we work with clients and staff in regions as culturally diverse as South Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia and New Zealand. As a global engineering and infrastructure advisory company we are committed to becoming a more innovative organisation that provides unique solutions to our clients’ challenges. This can only be achieved  in a work environment where everyone can feel valued and is therefore willing to contribute. Inclusive leadership and inclusive language gets to the heart of creating diverse organisations. Our partnership on the #WordsAtWork project in particular is an example of the progress Aurecon is making with its diversity and inclusion effort,” said Giam.

Building Inclusion: #WordsatWork: A campaign for more inclusive workplaces is a partnership initiative between DCA and Aurecon and we sincerely thank Aurecon for their leadership and vision in supporting this project.