Language Bias: How to Communicate Inclusively Within Your Organization 

Develop clear, concise messaging that considers everyone equally.

Imagine being in a role where every conversation, every job posting, and every performance review is subtly tailored to encourage one gender over another. Far from some ill-advised experiment, this skewed perspective is a daily reality in many of the world’s top companies.

Why? Poorly chosen language.

Language in the workplace does more than communicate; it shapes how we see ourselves and others. Even more than that, it can act as a gatekeeper, influencing who takes on leadership roles and who doesn’t. In short, the words we use are creating metaphorical potholes on women’s path to leadership.

In a recent report LinkedIn pulled back the curtain on the impact gender-specific language has on individuals and organizations. The findings surprised even us.

To truly conquer the gender gap, we need to dismantle the subtle biases embedded in our language.

Women are less likely to apply for a job that includes words like "aggressive" in the description, whereas terms like "collaborative" and "supportive" draw applicants from all genders.

Gender-Biased Language in Business

Imagine two professionals, John and Jane, both equally qualified, walking their respective career paths. John’s achievements are often described as “assertive” and “analytical,” words that carry a weight of authority and competence. Jane, however, is referred to as being “helpful” and “dedicated.” Do you see the difference? While positive, the words used to describe Jane’s strengths are more passive, submissive, less powerful. This is how language subtly reinforces traditional gender roles, and, when it comes to climbing the career ladder, it can have a huge influence on perceptions of leadership potential.

Language can influence the way women think about themselves and potential prospects, too. The LinkedIn report reveals that women are less likely to apply for a job that includes words like “aggressive” in the description, whereas terms like “collaborative” and “supportive” draw applicants from all genders. Being language aware is about creating an environment where everyone feels they belong.

So, Where Does Language Bias Come From? How Has it Developed and What Perpetuates it?

Language bias stems from longstanding societal norms and cultural constructs that assign different roles and attributes to genders. Historically, certain traits have been valorized or minimized based on gender. For example, assertiveness and decisiveness have been celebrated as leadership qualities typically associated with men, while empathy and cooperation, equally critical for leadership, have often been seen as feminine qualities, and thus less valued in leaders.

This bias is perpetuated through media portrayals, educational material, workplace norms, and even our daily interactions. Over time, these subtle cues solidify into a more rigid structure of gender expectations, which are then reflected in our language choices. By recognizing these patterns and their origins, organizations can actively work to disrupt them, creating a more balanced narrative that empowers all individuals equally.

How Can Large Organizations Adjust their Language to Make it More Inclusive?

Reflect and Revise
Start by examining the language used across your company’s communication. Does your latest job ad call for a “ninja” or a “guru”? These might seem dynamic, but they can resonate differently across genders. Opt instead for terms like “expert” or “specialist,” which are universally understood and appreciated.

Embrace Tech Tools
Use AI-driven tools like Textio that evaluate the inclusiveness of your language. These technologies can provide real-time suggestions to refine your job descriptions, ensuring they appeal to the widest talent pool.

Build Awareness
Regular workshops and seminars on inclusive language can be eye-openers. Use these sessions to discuss real examples from your own company materials and explore how different words might shape company culture.

Diverse Stories, Diverse Voices
In your employer branding, include a variety of narratives and success stories. For example, the single father who utilizes flexible working hours, the young woman leading a tech team – versatility sets new ‘norms’ and inspires workforces to view themselves and others more flexibly.

Promote Authentic Self-Expression
Encourage employees to share their career goals and achievements in their own words on platforms like LinkedIn. This practice not only fosters a sense of belonging but also enriches your company’s professional community.

Feedback and Flexibility
Regularly ask for feedback on how inclusive your language feels to your employees. Use this intel as a way to stay adaptive and responsive to the needs of your workforce.

Your Words Create Worlds
Each word you choose in the professional realm has the power to open a door or build a wall. Choose your words wisely.

Your Words Create Worlds

Each word you choose in the professional realm has the power to open a door or build a wall. Let’s choose our words wisely. By committing to mindful communication, we can turn our workplaces into environments where all talents are nurtured and where every professionalregardless of gendercan thrive.

 

To find out more about how WeQual can help your organization find its gender diversity sweet spot, visit www.wequal.com

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