Inclusive language is a way of acknowledging and respecting the diversity of people and their identities.
Using inclusive language with your team means they’ll feel more included in your conversations or your team’s work.
How to use inclusive language
Before you do anything, remember that no one must share information about their disability, health, identity, sexuality and so on. This is up to the individual.
Before talking about someone, ask what language they use for themselves.
It’s also good to ask them what their preferred method of communication is. We’re all different in how we like to convey or receive information.
Confirm that you’re:
- pronouncing their name correctly
- using the correct pronouns
- using the language they use when discussing aspects of their identity such as disability, mental health and so on
Don’t assume you have the right language without asking your staff member first.
A person might be part of a community, such as Autistic, People of Colour, Religious and so on, but they may prefer different language than their community uses.
Here’s a list of common examples that show you how to use inclusive language vs non-inclusive ways
People with disability
If you have a team member who is a member of the disability community, check in with them around the language they use.
But only do this if they’ve shared information about their disability with you.
Some examples of how you can ask this are:
- “I just wanted to check in with you about the language you would like others to use around [name of disability they’ve shared with you].”
- “What language do you prefer to use when discussing your [name of disability they’ve shared with you]?”
For example, some members of the disability or autistic community may prefer person first language, such as:
- person with disability
- person on the autism spectrum
While others may prefer identity first language, such as:
- autistic person
- disabled person
And if your team member cares for someone with a disability they may prefer to be called a ‘support person’ not a ‘carer’.
Some people may prefer everyone use specific terms when discussing their disability, such as person with Major Depressive Disorder. While others may prefer less specific language, such as person with mental health condition.
People who are Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD)
Make sure that you can correctly pronounce the names of your team members. If you have trouble pronouncing someone’s name, ask them to repeat it and practise saying it correctly in your own time.
If someone discusses their country of birth, remember the correct name of where they’re born.
For example, a person from Ireland may be offended if you mistakenly refer to them as being from England. Similarly, people from Korea may be offended if you mistakenly refer to them as Japanese and vice-versa.
But remember, it’s never appropriate to ask someone ‘where are you from’ if they’ve not told you.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer or questioning (LGBTIQ)
If you have a team member from the LGBTIQ community, check what words they use for their identity.
For instance, some LGBTIQ people like the term ‘queer’. For other people the term ‘queer’ is still considered a slur.
Some people will prefer not to use labels at all, even if they are same-sex attracted.
We recommend you ask your team member how they identify and what language they prefer you use.
Find out more about LGBTIQ inclusive language.
Transgender and gender diverse people
If you have a team member who is transgender or gender diverse, you should ask what their pronouns are.
A pronoun is the word we use to replace a noun, for example:
Encourage all team members, regardless of gender identity to include their pronouns in email signatures. This helps everyone normalise pronoun use.
People using ‘they/them’ pronouns may not identify as transgender or non-binary so remember to ask about people’s language around their identity as well.
What to do if you get it wrong
If you make a mistake with the language you use during a casual conversation here’s what to do:
- say ‘thank you’ to anyone who corrects you
- avoid apologising so no one feels obliged to say ‘it’s okay’ if that’s not how they feel
- correct yourself as soon as you realise your mistake
- move on with the conversation
If you make a mistake during a more formal conversation or public address:
- correct yourself immediately, if possible
- seek out the person privately after the event to acknowledge your mistake
- issue a correction if necessary
Who we consulted with
We consulted with staff networks to check the language in this tool is appropriate and respectful.
For this tool, we consulted with:
- Aboriginal Employment Unit at the Victorian Public Sector Commission
- Autism Success Network
- Enablers Network