Let’s talk about inclusive language.

Happy Pride Month! 🌈

This month, people around the world are taking part in parades and events to commemorate the Stonewall riots, demonstrate for equal rights, and celebrate LGBTQIA+ Pride.

(In case you don’t know what all the letters mean in the acronym LGBTQIA+:  lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual/agender, PLUS all those who are part of the community but don’t identify within those categories, for example, those who identify as pansexual or gender-fluid. Pride Month celebrates everyone in this community.)

And during this celebration, unfortunately, a lot of corporations will change their logo colors, make a statement, and call it a day, without actually doing the work to create an inclusive business community for LGBTQIA+ folks.

Despite advances towards equality that the LGBTQIA+ community has fought for and won over the years, there is still a LOT of work to do.

I’m a business owner, so let me share some stats about workplace inequality:

  • 1 in 4 LGBTQ+ employees report experiencing workplace discrimination in the last five years.
  • 46% of LGBTQ+ workers report being closeted at work. 
  • More than 75% of transgender employees take steps to avoid mistreatment in the workplace. 
  • Nearly 1 in 10 LGBTQ+ employees have left a job because the environment is unwelcoming. 
  • 52.8% of LGBTQ+ employees report that discrimination negatively affected their work environment. 
  • 51% of LGBTQ+ individuals have considered moving to a new location to live in a community more accepting of all sexual orientations / gender identities. 

These stats are heartbreaking, infuriating, and disappointing. 

But as business owners, there are steps we can take to make a difference in the spaces we co-create.

So, let’s talk about a few different ways you can create an inclusive space for LGBTQIA+ members of your business community.

1. Set up a policy to share everyone’s pronouns. 

At Hello Seven, for example, we have a policy that asks (although doesn’t require) all team members to include their pronouns in their email signatures, Zoom names, and Slack handles.

In writing, we use gender-neutral, singular they/them pronouns unless we’re referring to a specific person whose pronouns we know.

When we have live calls with clients, we also ask that they add their pronouns to their Zoom names. We provide directions for our clients to do this at helloseven.co/zoompronouns.

When you set up a policy like this, you normalize the fact that pronouns should never be assumed and always be respected.

2. Set up Community Guidelines, and include clear consequences. 

If you run a community like we do, then you know that bringing thousands of people together from all walks of life is a beautiful thing — and that, as beautiful as it is, it can also cause conflict and tension.

If you don’t set up clear policies about what’s acceptable in your community and what isn’t, then you risk real harm to your members — especially your members that belong to marginalized groups.

That’s why at Hello Seven, we have a set of Community Guidelines that include clear values, expectations, and violations that apply to our Facebook group and broader community.

For example, Respect Each Other’s Identities is one of our core values. In our Guidelines, we explain that this means we don’t assume the pronouns, backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientations, or gender identities of any of our Club members.

Another core value is Use Inclusive Language, because just like we don’t want to assume how folks identify, we want to make sure we are using language that excludes none of us, and allows ALL of us to thrive.

And we don’t just value these things — we set up clear policies and consequences that outline what will happen if community members disregard these values.

In the case of disrespecting someone’s pronouns or using any kind of hateful or harmful speech, for example, we reach out to the person who committed the violation and educate them as to why that language and behavior will not be tolerated. If the person repeats the violation, they are removed from the community.

I know thinking about consequences might feel intense and uncomfortable, but this is how you walk the walk.

If you tell LGBTQIA+ and other marginalized folks that they’re welcome in your community, then you need to take concrete action to ensure that they’re respected and included.

Although you can’t control the words and actions of others, you can control the expectations you set for inclusivity in your community.

3. Use inclusive language. 

Use inclusive language when it comes to gender and sexuality. For example, don’t use gender-specific terms like guys, gals, boss babes, ladies and gentlemen, etc. when referring to a group of people.

When you do this, you exclude folks who don’t identify with the gender category you’re naming, as well as folks who don’t identify within the gender binary (men/women) at all.

A good solution to this is to use gender neutral words like people, folks, humans, y’all, team, or even community-specific nicknames, like Shmillies (that’s what we call our Club members!).

Using inclusive language is a crucial part of creating an inclusive environment not just for LGBTQIA+ folks, but for all marginalized people.

If you want to make sure you’re using inclusive language, but you need some guidance on what that looks like, read the Hello Seven Guide To Inclusive Language.

4. If you get called out, first listen, then change your behavior.  

Let me give a personal example of what this looks like.

A couple of months ago I made a post in our community Facebook group. In the caption I used a word I didn’t think twice about — “lame.” A few hours later, someone commented to let me know that “lame” is actually an ableist term, because it has been historically used derogatorily against folks with disabilities. I edited the caption, replied to the comment to apologize, thanked the commenter for educating me, and let them know I had changed the caption. I did not delete the comment thread, because I wanted others to learn from my mistake. (And we have since created a Guideline around this, where we ask community members to reconsider deleting posts or comments that may be educational to other folks in the community.)  

When you’re called out for using exclusive language, your first move should be to listen. ESPECIALLY if the person calling you out is a member of a marginalized group that you are not a member of.

All of us, even the most marginalized folks, have some degree of privilege.

For example, I’m a Black woman, and my life is shaped by all the systemic disadvantages that come with those identities. But my life is also shaped by my privileges — I’m light-skinned, I have a white mom, I’m a cisgender, straight, highly educated US citizen, and I have money. (Note: being “cisgender” means the gender I identify with — woman — matches the biological sex I was assigned at birth — female.)

So if a person who has a different life experience than me calls me out for using an ableist term, I’m gonna listen. If a queer person calls me out for using a heteronormative term, I’m gonna listen. If a non-US-citizen calls me out for excluding undocumented residents, I’m gonna listen.

When you get called out, your job is NOT to defend yourself, explain yourself, justify your actions or otherwise make excuses. Your job is to listen, repair the harm done where you can, and change your behavior moving forward.

If you want to better understand your own privileges, you can scroll down to the Check Your Privilege Chart included in your Guide To Inclusive Language.

And please remember, this Guide is neither comprehensive nor static. It is unfinished and it will always be unfinished. Just like all of us, it’s a work in progress. 

So as we learn, as the world shifts and changes around us, and as inclusive language evolves over time, we will continue to update this Guide moving forward.

Staying up to date with this Guide is great, but don’t stop there. Working through your unconscious biases is the work of a lifetime. Keep questioning, reflecting, listening, and changing your language and behaviors based on what you learn.

Like Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

I believe it’s our responsibility as leaders and business owners to continue this learning, and to create inclusive spaces for all marginalized folks.

The less we get defensive and the more we get reflective, curious, and open-minded, the more beauty we allow into our businesses, our relationships, and our lives.

So in honor of Pride Month, read through your Guide To Inclusive Language — and feel free to reach out and tell us what you learn, or what you’d like to teach us.

I hope you have a restful, revolutionary Sunday. ❤️


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