Inclusive Communication in the Workplace: Why it Matters and How to Achieve It

Engagement & Motivation
Workplace Organization
April 5, 2023

Inclusive communication is a language style that actively acknowledges individuals for who they are and demonstrates respect for people from various backgrounds. It ensures everyone's perspectives are respected and that each employee has access to equal opportunities.

Inclusive communication employs neutral, non-discriminatory, and unbiased language and communication techniques to develop a friendly, polite, and egalitarian environment where people feel appreciated and heard, regardless of their differences.

What is Inclusive Communication in the Workplace

Inclusive communication creates a work environment that feels supportive and genuine. This type of communication helps employees feel at home at their place of work. Companies that prioritize a culture of inclusive communication have a greater chance of success, often surpassing their competition in crucial areas like hiring, employee engagement, employee satisfaction, and business growth. 

Communicating inclusively goes hand in hand with diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. The more leadership commits to DEI initiatives, the stronger the culture of inclusive communication will become. 

At the root, inclusive communication is about promoting an atmosphere of respect at work and fostering open communication where employee differences are honored and respected. Workshops on topics like unconscious bias and the harmful impact of prejudice and stereotyping can cut off hurtful communication habits at the source.

Other components that create an intentional culture of inclusion include routinely evaluating and eliminating barriers to inclusivity and actively working to promote a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Businesses prioritizing inclusivity position themselves for long-term success and have happier, more engaged employees.

A variety of inclusive communication modes exist in the workplace, including:

  • Non-verbal: Body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice all significantly impact fostering an inclusive work environment.
  • Verbal: Potentially the most prevalent method of communication at work.
  • Written: All written communication, including emails, memos, and company reports.

The 4 “Isms” that harm inclusive communication

Communication cannot be inclusive if the work culture allows prejudiced language or hate speech. Here are four common “isms” that actively prevent inclusivity:

  • Sexism: Sexist language that degrades or stereotypes an employee based on their gender.
  • Ageism: Terminology that singles someone out due to their age.
  • Racism: Racially charged language that is insulting or stereotyping.
  • Ableism: Stereotypes or insults someone due to their differing abilities.

Why is Inclusive Communication Important

Organizations can build an inclusive, respectful, and equitable workplace culture for all employees by promoting inclusive communication awareness and education. 

Creating a culture of inclusive communication shows the company’s effort to utilize language that contributes to a more equitable world while condemning the misrepresentation and institutional discrimination that plague our workplaces to this day.

Inclusive communication breeds a culture of acceptance and opportunity for all. This triggers a domino effect that can improve productivity, employee engagement, and even customer satisfaction.

Multiple factors make inclusive communication in the workplace necessary:

  • Respect: All people should be treated with respect, regardless of gender, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or ability, as demonstrated by inclusive communication. It produces a friendly and encouraging work environment.
  • Diversity: Inclusive language shows a company values diversity within the workforce.
  • Legal obligation: Companies are required to provide a work environment free from harassment and discrimination. Inclusive communication is a crucial part of cultivating an equitable company culture. 
  • Communication: Everyone can better comprehend one another and collaborate more successfully when speech is free from bias.
  • Reputation: Businesses that prioritize inclusive language are more reputable in the eyes of potential employees, investors, and customers.
  • Employee engagement: When employees feel valued, metrics like engagement, morale, and productivity improve. 

How to communicate with inclusivity in 2024

Here are some actionable ways to make workplace communication more inclusive this year:

Replace stereotypical and culturally insensitive language with inclusive alternatives

Many expressions commonly used in the workplace are exclusive in nature. Encourage employees to consider what language they use that, while not overtly offensive, does not reflect everyone in the office. People often use slurs without even realizing it. 

Even the most seemingly innocuous words can be rooted in discriminatory language. For example, the word “dumb” is commonly used to reflect someone who isn’t intelligent but is actually defined as someone who cannot communicate verbally. And while commonly used to say someone behaves erratically, the term “spastic” actually references the muscle tightness and contractions resulting from cerebral palsy and/or multiple sclerosis.

Commonly used idioms like “blind leading the blind” and “falling on deaf ears” are also exclusive in nature. 

Understand employee identities

People's identities are primarily shaped by their race and ethnicity, meaning misidentification can be damaging and invalidating. 

Make an effort to understand and learn whatever race, ethnicity, or national origin employees identify to avoid making assumptions and lumping everyone into one racial group, such as Asian or African. Encourage employees to communicate openly about the language they do not perceive as inclusive.

Communicate openly about language preferences

Ableist language can indirectly define a person by their disability status and propagate harmful stereotypes.

This is incredibly dangerous, considering the discrepancy between employment rates for people with and without disabilities. In 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 21.3% of people with a disability were employed. That is less than a third of the employment percentage for those without a disability (65.4%). 

Companies can actively combat ableist language by communicating openly about what language employees with disabilities prefer. Some people prefer person-first language like “person with a disability”, while others prefer identify-first language like “disabled person”. Genuine inclusivity means recognizing that not every person perceives language the same way and prioritizes respecting each and every employee’s definition of what is and isn’t inclusive of their identities. 

How to Drive Inclusive Communication Rewards & Recognition Software

Building a culture of inclusivity in the workplace is no small feat, but injecting inclusive language into rewards and recognition programs is a good place to start. You can make your organization a hub for inclusive collaboration by standardizing the process of rewarding and recognizing employees. 

Qarrot empowers employees to nominate each other, all while providing managers with advanced insights that weed out any potential biases. Interested in learning more?  Book a demo to see Qarrot in action!

Martha Kendall

Martha Kendall is a freelance B2B SaaS writer who loves creating strategic blog posts that drive traffic and convert. When she’s not writing about marketing, you can find her petting fluffy cats and reading good books.