By Sara Axelbaum, global head of inclusion and diversity
Language is incredibly powerful. It can comfort and reassure, inspire and motivate, energize and encourage. But it can also sting and wound. It can incite hate, provoke malice and cause great damage. So while language is one of our greatest gifts, it’s also one of our biggest weapons.
Put simply, what we say impacts other people. So in the workplace and beyond, we’re all responsible for the words we choose to use. If someone finds something you said offensive, you don’t have to agree. But you do need to recognize that they’ve been impacted by your language. It’s very important to find a better and more inclusive way to communicate. And with a whole library of alternative words and phrases to adopt, we’re spoiled for choice. There’s no denying that there’s always another way to say something.
The only caveat? Language is always evolving, so the words we choose to use change over time. The dictionary continues to expand and the learning never stops.
We all get it wrong sometimes – even when we know better. When we do, it’s important that we apologize, correct ourselves, and strive to do better next time. No one is expecting perfection, but we need to make progress.
To reflect the ever-evolving nature of language, our tone of voice at MiQ is always under review. It can’t be set in stone, so it’s a bit like a living glossary. We also know that the ‘right’ terminology depends on location and context, so it can never be universal. As a global business, we have the courage to have challenging conversations and we try to always do what’s right.
As a business, we recently decided to adopt the term ‘BIPOC’. It’s a term that’s mostly used in the USA, where ‘Black’ and ‘Indigenous’ is joined with ‘People of Color’ notation. It signifies the important impact of societal and systemic racism on these identities. This term isn’t as relevant in other countries, so where it’s appropriate, we’ve suggested other terms. But globally, we need a way to communicate efficiently, so we typically use ‘BIPOC’ and we’re transparent about why we came to that decision.
When talking about race, we also capitalize ‘Black’ and ‘White’. It’s a decision made by the US National Association of Black Journalists, and it’s one we’re proud to stand by. It creates consistency with how other race terms are used and indicates that no race or ethnicity is the default.
We continue to look into other common language choices. As part of this, inclusive pronouns are also becoming standard practice at MiQ. And as part of HackiQ 2022 in India, one of our team’s even built an AI solution that suggests kinder words to use in Slack.
We’ve also converted our internal systems so that we avoid phrases like ‘whitelist or blacklist’ and ‘master and slave’ in coding language. Plus, we try to avoid stigmatizing language like ‘crazy’, ‘lame’, and ‘grandfathered in’, as well as culturally appropriative language. We also promote the use of ‘folks, team, all, y’all and everyone’ rather than saying ‘hey guys’.
Being mindful with language is just one of the ways we champion inclusion and diversity across our global business. Every year, we produce a data-driven report detailing what’s worked well and where we need to make progress. To find out more about our inclusion evolution, read this year’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability Report.