I strongly believe in using inclusive language, and I’ve been trying really hard to avoid using biased language in my speaking and writing. I’ve always cringed inside when I heard others using biased expressions, but I didn’t speak up about it. And I’m really sorry about that. It’s hard for me to confront people, especially in a public setting.
That is not helpful for anyone but me, and I’ve been trying to get over my anxiety. I’ve tried to speak up more often, help others realize their language is not inclusive, and improve. In private, while being extremely apologetic about it.
My breaking point happened a few weeks ago. I was attending a conference, and one of the first talks had a high frequency of exclusionary language, things like “hey guys”, “raise your hands, guys”, “as we all know”. It made me cringe every time because that was one of the most diverse audiences I’ve seen at conferences, and we weren’t all “guys”. And no, we didn’t all know that super-obscure SVG thing the speaker was talking about.
If you’ve seen my Twitter account before, you might have noticed the introvert in me keeps it all rainbows and butterflies, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Sentiment analysis of my feed says that’s the only negative tweet I’ve done in a while. But it helped some of the other speakers check their language on stage.
Moving forward, I’m going to try to speak up more about using inclusive language. This is not going to be about public shaming or singling out anyone in a conversation. It’s about reminding people, sometimes privately, that we can all do more. That’s my pledge for 2020, and I hope you’ll join us. Some of my Nexmo colleagues wrote this week about things we could all do.
Lauren wrote a list of actionable things you can start doing:
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If you’re looking for things you can start doing today to be more inclusive with your language, here is a primer, in no way extensive:
- replace you guys with people, fellow humans, or my favorite, y’all.
- replace crazy or insane with outrageous or unthinkable.
- replace bitching with complaining or whining.
- replace variations on balls or sack up or man up with courage or grit.
- use the gender-neutral singular they pronoun instead of he or she when referring to professions. A programmer isn’t always a he.
If you’re looking for tooling that helps flag non-inclusive language, here’s what I found over the years.
- Better Allies and Rands Leadership created a file you can use in your Slack instance to suggest alternatives for specific phrases: https://betterallies.com/language/
- Ben created a GitHub Action to comment on your PRs when people use non-inclusive language: https://github.com/benhayehudi/inclusive-language-github-action
- Mozilla created an addon for Firefox that replaces offensive gendered language with “boss” while you’re browsing: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/b-itch-to-boss/
I’d love to know about other tools around inclusive language, so if you’re using something else, please leave a comment.