Inclusive Language (Webinar Review)

Everyone has biases. Even when our biases seem conscious, they may be influenced by a pattern of unconscious assumptions. Our brain simplifies our environment to manage and negotiate an extremely complex and busy world. Stereotyping is a form of such simplification, where our brain assigns qualities to categories. If we heavily rely on these ‘shortcuts’, without further rationalization, we risk excluding and alienating people for no good reason![1]

Elena Dunne recently spoke on the subject of Inclusive Terminology at the October 14th Ohio STC meeting. Her main point was that as society changes, language too should evolve. In her work for Rockwell Automation, she shared how changes to language in technical terminology prove to be especially difficult, even when necessary.

In June 2020, as the Black Lives Matter movement was gaining momentum, Rockwell Automation made it a priority to identify and replace non-inclusive technical terms that are used in their products and content. Elena spoke of this journey, challenges that they encountered, and some of the lessons that they learned in the process.

One of the things that they questioned was if the language that they were using was helping them to build a culture that they wanted. Their goal was to provide a unified guidance for identifying, replacing, and avoiding offensive and racially biased language in products and documentation. To do that, they involved all groups – from product development, to technical writers, to standards and industry engagement.

Rockwell then defined three criteria for making a terminology change: the term is profane or derogatory; the term carries systematic unconscious bias in relation to everything from race to political views; and/or the term is based on a violent metaphor or refers to violent actions.

Elena kindly provided this handout, which includes a list of the offensive terms and their replacements.

There’s so much to say about inclusive terminology. Check out these references for some additional information.

[1] Howard J. Ross, Everyday Bias, Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in our Daily Lives, Rowman & Littlefield, 2020.

Click brochure to see the material Elena provided.

By Lisa Adair