Language is powerful and it can help to shift attitudes and behaviours. Inclusive language can help to promote and embed equality, diversity and inclusion. We need to practice empathy and consider the impact of the words and phrases we use on the experience of others. Everyone has different individual personal preferences about language and identity. Language is always evolving and changing. This means there are no definitive rules but understanding some key principles will help you adopt an inclusive approach on a day to day basis.
Do not use language that:
- Reinforces stereotypes or derogatory terms.
- Patronises or trivialises groups of people.
- Excludes certain groups of people. For example, assuming the white population is the norm.
- Causes discomfort or offence. For example, avoid words such as ‘elderly’, ‘aged’, and ‘senior’ and use more neutral language such as ‘older people’.
- Groups together all people within a certain category. For example, the disabled, the Muslims, the single mothers, BAME Communities.
Do use language that:
- Acknowledges diversity and conveys respect to all people.
- Proactively includes welcoming words, phrases and expressions
- Challenges conscious and unconscious biases. For example, avoid masculine pronouns or nouns for mixed-gender groups, or defaulting to ‘he/him’ when a person’s gender is unknown or unclear.
- Avoids assumptions that may exclude people. For example, use carer, guardian, parent, caregiver to avoid assumptions about biological parents.
- Respects people’s privacy to share information about themselves if and when they feel comfortable doing so.
- Recognises the individual lived experiences within groups, especially when referring to generalisations (for example when discussing data), noting there will be exceptions to the rules.
What if I get it wrong?
For some of us communicating in a more inclusive way is about changing deeply embedded habits and it will take time. It is okay to make mistakes. Apologise, correct what you have said, learn from the mistake and work to communicate more inclusively next time.
Repeated mistakes indicate a lack of respect and can be very distressing. Please see the Policy on Dignity and Mutual Respect (PDF) for further information about bullying, harassment and victimisation, including the complaints procedures for staff and students.
The following resources include up to date, detailed information about inclusive language and terminology:
- A practical guide to gender-neutral writing (gov.uk)
- Equality Act 2020 (Equality and Human Rights Commission)
- Glossary of terms (Stonewall)
- Language and Pronouns (gendered intelligence)
- Religion and Belief (Advance HE)
- Social Model of Disability: Language (Disability Rights UK)
- The usefulness of gender neutral language (gendered intelligence)
- Use of language race and ethnicity (Advance HE)
- Words to use and avoid when writing about disability (Gov.uk)