John Bennett/ October 12, 2021/ Development, Leadership, Organization Development

Leaders at all levels should work to reduce bias and exclusive language

Using language that is unbiased and inclusive can be challenging for managers and colleagues. Our vocabularies and mental models are well-formed, often without realizing the biases that are built in. As a result, it is easy to unconsciously offend or exclude others. Everyone is biased. We all have preferences. Consider your choices of food, clothing, friends, and even TV programming. Are you aware of your biases? Are you aware of the impacts of your choices?

In a 2021 article, Crystal Borde shared tips for how trainers and facilitators can improve their effectiveness by taking steps to reduce bias and exclusive language. This prompted me to think about ways that leaders at all levels can do the same. Here are five tips:

  1. Know your associates. Create a brave space for associates to share who they are and what is important to them about their identities and cultures. Then, act with curiosity and honor to recognize and value the differences. This could involve acknowledging cultural and religious holidays or not asserting your beliefs and cultural practices on others.
  2. Ask for pronoun preferences. Ask your business associates, partners, and customers how they would like you to refer to them, which pronoun set is preferred. This might be he/him/his, she/her/hers, or they/them/theirs. Asking this will demonstrate a level of awareness of preferences as well as foster a sense of inclusion for others to express themselves as they wish.
  3. Avoid using slang. Often without being aware of the meaning of phrases such as “grandfathering”, “peanut gallery”, “guys”, we can be offensive to others. While these terms and phrases are commonplace and provide short-hand, be sure to change the meaning of phrases you use.
  4. Consider who is asked to participate and who is participating. Notice who you select for assignments or whose opinions you frequently seek. Are you regularly going to the same people? Is there a race, gender, cultural bias? Track who is speaking in meetings. Then, make sure no one social identity group or individual is dominating the conversations. Consider who is speaking first and who may not be contributing as much, Then, take action to invite a variety of voices to participate.
  5. Seek and use feedback. In addition to getting to know the preferences and cultural practices of others, seek feedback on your own language and behavior. This might include periodically asking others to tell you if your language is biased or offensive to others. Ask others to review materials you are preparing that includes gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. references such as words and images.

Changing a team or organization’s culture is never easy. It takes time, sponsorship, patience, perseverance, and hard work. These five tips can provide a foundation for inclusion.

How have you created an inclusive workplace? What challenges have you faced? What successes have you experienced? I’m interested in your thoughts and ideas, so please leave your comments, feedback, and suggestions below.

Photo by Alexander Suhorucov from Pexels


© 2021, John L. Bennett. All Rights Reserved

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