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According to merit?/Diversity: Words at work

According to merit?/Diversity: Words at work

By Cathy Brown

Language is a powerful tool for encouraging diversity. Diversity Council Australia (DCA) has launched its project #WordsAtWork: Building inclusion through the power of language. After speaking with businesses across the country, CEO Lisa Annese noticed that workplaces were struggling to find guidance on how best to encourage inclusive language. In response, DCA developed a campaign video featuring DCA chair David Morrison and a series of guides and education programs for workplaces about the power of language. Why language matters Language is a powerful tool for building inclusion (or exclusion) at work. How we speak to and about each other is crucial to building workplace culture. The research suggested that when used in job interviews, non-inclusive language results in applicants from excluded groups (such as women) finding the position less attractive. Non-inclusive comments in the workplace have also been shown to impede the advancement of people from excluded groups and frequent non-inclusive experiences can have just as harmful effects as more intense but less frequent experiences (such as sexual coercion and harassment). Political correctness gone mad? The way we work has had to change over time to keep pace with many social, economic and technological shifts. DCA research has shown that inclusive cultures are high performance cultures and deliver greater performance and productivity (see DCA’s Building Inclusion: An evidence-based model of inclusive leadership research report for a research review). These new tools will help businesses build more inclusive workplaces to drive productivity and profitability, increase creativity, innovation and employee wellbeing, and reduce employee turnover. For employers this means concrete bottom line financial benefits. The campaign materials are available at The guides and workplace programs are available to DCA members. 5 steps to inclusive language Be open to changing what you have always thought is normal and appropriate to say. Focus on the person first rather than the demographic group they belong to – instead of disabled employees try employees with disability. Consider context – eg Indigenous people may use the term “blackfella” to refer to other Indigenous people but this term is not generally appropriate for non-Indigenous Australians to use. If in doubt, ask the person or contact organisations that represent given diversity groups. Keep calm and respond – instead of justifying your actions, focus on understanding the other person’s perspective. Cathy Brown is DCA policy research manager and Jane O’Leary is research director.

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