Elizabeth Horn, former program director at Freedom Oklahoma, helps business leaders understand the importance of using inclusive language. She recently spoke with Candor about how companies can implement policies that make employees and clients feel safe and valued.
Why does inclusive language matter in the business world?
You don’t always know everything about everyone you’re working with. Using inclusive language ensures you’re providing a safe space and setting an expectation for how you engage with coworkers and clients.
Additionally, it helps in the hiring process. Businesses using inclusive language get a broader range of applicants. There are things LGBTQ+ people look for in job descriptions — like whether the Equal Opportunity Employer statement includes sexual orientation and gender identity — which provide insight into the company’s environment and culture.
Using inclusive language is also just good business. There will be a greater variety of customers who want to work with you.
How would you respond to someone who says, “We want to be inclusive, but it’s uncomfortable for some people”?
Acknowledging discomfort is often the first step. It’s OK to say, “This isn’t a conversation we’ve had before. Here are the reasons why we’re having it now.”
It’s important to let people privately express why they’re uncomfortable to prevent hurting or offending other employees. Some people will be all in and others will want to examine risks. And there are risks. You could potentially lose business initially. However, expanding your base means it will grow again later.
What should a manager or leader do if someone on the team says they won’t use somebody’s pronouns and chosen name or treat all relationships equally?
Organizations should have policies in place around these issues. And that means doing the groundwork in advance. Written policies set standards and expectations. Rather than engaging in ideological conversations, policies allow leaders to say, “This is how we operate. We are going to respect what people are requesting.”
There doesn’t have to be an ideological conversation. It’s more about behavior than beliefs.
What would you say to a company leader who says, “I don’t want to get into this because it’s political?”
Despite what headlines may say, creating an inclusive work environment isn’t political. It becomes politicized when other people think someone’s identity is up for discussion. Setting policies that say, “This is how we treat people,” means when people come to work, they’re free to focus on their jobs, not their safety.
What else do employers need to know?
People need to do their homework before launching into these conversations. Having discussions ahead of time, making sure leadership is on board and having policies to fall back on is critical to creating a safe, inclusive workplace.
A southern California native, Elizabeth (she/her) has spent the last 15 years working for and with Oklahoma City’s nonprofit community. As the Director of Programming at Freedom Oklahoma, she built ground-up programming that directly supported 2SLGBTQ+ Oklahomans in schools, the workplace, the legal system, and daily life. She continues this work both personally and professionally. She lives in Oklahoma City with her two incredible children and their very old puppy, Sweetpea.