Are you worried about saying the wrong thing? Dilly dallying around not sure whether to say he, she, them. Black, white, Indigenous, non-Indigenous. Maybe you can’t get started because you’re afraid your big foot will bolt straight into your mouth.

Maybe it doesn’t matter that much…

It does matter. And it isn’t that hard! You already care so you’re half way there.

And I can help.

Inclusive writing isn’t a topic that can be ticked off in one article. This is the start of a wonderful relationship – a series of blogs (articles) – to get your juices flowing and your brain-a-ticking.

We’ll start with this article to look at what inclusive writing is. And why it matters for your brand.

Inclusive writing for online content

We’ll focus on using inclusive words for your online content. Words for websites, emails, sales pages, blog articles. After all, these online goodies are the shop front for your business.

Zillions (I don’t know exact numbers but you get my point) – many people – search online to get to know your business. They want to get the feels before they part with their hard-earned moolah.

You know what it’s like. If you read content online and it feels off, feels yukky, feels uncomfortable, you’ll click out. You’ll go to the next site.

What people read on your site tells them whether you’re worth hanging around with.

There’ll always be some people that might not care either way.

But, growing numbers of people DO care. They might be looking for vibes. Do they feel welcome or feel they belong on your site? Are they looking for where you stand? Where you invest your dollars. Which side of the fence you’re sitting on for topical issues.

Do you want to risk losing sales by using ‘the wrong’ (exclusive) word choices? It’s safer, friendlier and quite frankly, just as easy, to use inclusive language.

So, what’re you waiting for. Let’s get started.

What is inclusive writing?

Inclusive writing is about being conscious of the words you choose to use.

“Inclusive language avoids biases, slang or expressions that discriminate against groups of people based on race, gender, sexuality, disability or socio-economic status. Inclusive language allows you to resonate with more audiences by writing and speaking in more impartial ways”

(Caroline Forsey | HubSpot | 2020)

Words really do matter. Words have a huge impact on how people feel. How they respond.

We’ve been here before

Inclusive language is not new.

When I first got involved in anti-oppression (1980s UK), part of the solution was to challenge offensive language. Racist, sexist and homophobic words were used to humiliate, insult and threaten those on the receiving end. It was a way of challenging deep-rooted prejudices ingrained in everyday words and expressions.

By the early 1990s, there was huge backlash. The agenda was hijacked. The term ‘politically correct’ became derogatory and “a joke”. And it dwindled.

It didn’t die. It came back bigger and stronger

The Diversity Council Australia describes inclusive language, “not about being ‘politically correct’ – it is about encouraging people to use language at work which is respectful, accurate, and relevant to everyone”.

Trump helped raise the profile once more. With his narcissistic, racist, misogynistic, divisive words, there’s been a resurgence to stop negative language.

Because of it, more and more people are choosing to use language that’s thoughtful, kind and appropriate.

It translates to your business content. The world (even your small part) is listening and watching. Your online presence is there for all to see. Inclusive language is about giving a welcoming message to all your customers.

Inclusive language for the norm

Language is a powerful way to build inclusion. It can be used to show respect, to create a sense of belonging and make people feel valued.

Language can equally be used to exclude people. Make them feel like an outsider. Push them out. Disregard them.

I’m guessing you’re reading this because you’re an eager beaver to make sure people feel INCLUDED.

Inclusive copywriting is my bag. Soon, it’ll be everyone’s bag (fingers crossed). We’ll all write (and speak) inclusively as a matter of course.

Bring on that day.

Why inclusive language matters

Businesses are wising up to the importance of inclusive language in their marketing mix.

It matters for business

In the past, businesses would avoid taking a political stance on pretty much anything. Seeing it as bad for business

The world is changing – terrorist attacks, international social uprisings, the fast rise of social media, global pandemic, the culture in the business world is changing fast.

Businesses have two choices: they can

  1. Either take a strong political stance
  2. Or have their silence interpreted as collusion (fairly or unfairly)

In 2017 Deloitte found that diversity and inclusion has become a CEO-level issue around the world. Diversity isn’t simply a “check the box” initiative owned by HR. Over two-thirds (69 percent) of executives rate diversity and inclusion an important issue.

2020 gave an opportunity to be clear on where we stand. And how to use our voices to support movements that align with our values.

Buying power

The more someone feels welcome at a business (through websites or social media), the more engaged they’ll be, the more motivated to stay, the more likely to buy and the higher the customer satisfaction will be.

Being inclusive is not just a nice thing to do – it’s becoming essential for a company’s bottom line.

The buying power of women is huge, the pink pound and black dollar are worth trillions. They vote with their purchasing power. We need to appeal to everyone and stop ignoring big chunks of the population.

Plenty of consumers are willing to pay more for ethical and sustainable goods and services.

People are turning their backs on major brands who’ve been accused of prejudice, insensitivity, racist behaviour or cultural appropriation.

5 steps to inclusive writing

1. Be kind.

Language is constantly evolving.

What’s acceptable to say today, might not be tomorrow. What’s OK for one person to say, might not be for another. What’s used in one country, might not be in another.

Words with negative connotations can sometimes be reclaimed by younger generations. It’s best to avoid them unless you own the words.

What I mean by owning:

My bestie, a gay man, might chose to use the word queer to describe himself. I won’t use it. As a straight woman, it’s not mine to use. It was offensive growing up in 1970s UK so I don’t say it. Ever.

In 1960s Australia, it was common to hear people say, wogs, a demeaning description for people from southern Europe. As these groups worked their way to equality and their confidence grew, they started using the word themselves in an ironic way. Their choice. Still not a word I’d use. (Makes me shiver – it’s a racist slang word in the UK).

2. Be open minded

There’s a possibility you’ll hear words that you’ve always thought are ‘normal’, respectful and appropriate to say.

As you learn more, be open to ‘unlearning’ and changing what you know.

You don’t have to be perfect – just be willing to learn.

3. Be apologetic

Learning something new means there’s a chance you’ll get it wrong at some point. That’s OK (as long as you don’t repeat the same mistake over and over).

You might, inadvertently, offend someone. Or say the wrong thing. If that happens – acknowledge it. Apologise. Don’t let it put you off. Learning and unlearning takes time. Move in the right direction.

If you hear others getting it wrong – put them right. But be kind.

The more you understand inclusive writing, and as language evolves, the more your word choices will change.

4. Be joyful.

Challenging oppression does not mean being a killjoy, a destroyer of happiness, a ruiner of mood.

Joy promotes resilience, unity and gives hope. It reclaims humanity and disrupts expectations.

Humour gives support, alleviation and comfort. Having a world full of happier people is what we all want.

Humour that belittles any marginalised group is NOT OK. Adding “it’s just a joke” is still NOT OK.

5. Be brave

Inclusivity might mean challenging discrimination. It might mean learning new things or unlearning others. Maybe its admitting uncomfortable truths. It’s also making sure your language has impact over perfect grammar.

All in all

That’s the first 5 hot tips done and dusted.

Are the words on your site telling people you’re worth hanging around for? Do they feel welcome, feel they belong and get the positive vibes?

Words are powerful. They matter. They have a huge impact on how people feel.

Inclusive writing is about being conscious of the words you choose to use. Avoid language that discriminates against groups of people based on race, gender, sexuality, disability or socio-economic status.

More where that came from…

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