What is inclusive language?
When we say ‘inclusive language’ we mean the everyday terms and phrases we use to address or describe people in various situations and contexts. Inclusive language aims to take into consideration the many different identities, cultures and lived experiences that humans embody every single day. Some examples include:
- Instead of addressing a room as ‘ladies and gentlemen’, use ‘everyone’, ‘colleagues’ or ‘students’;
- Referring to someone as having a ‘mental health condition’ rather than being ‘mentally ill’;
- Instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’ use ‘they’ or ‘the student’ if you’ve never met.
Why does inclusive language matter?
Inclusive language is important for many reasons; it avoids negatively stereotyping people or persons based on their characteristics and experiences, and encourages people to think beyond these traits by understanding the individual. You are already creating a safer, more tolerant space for everybody by making small adjustments to your language in this way. The University of Bath strives to maintain inclusivity in its language and practices by creating an inclusive culture across the institution.
What are pronouns?
Pronouns are the basic terms we use to refer to somebody when talking to someone else. A pronoun is a simple identifier for people, like ‘he’, ‘she’, or ‘they’, but it’s important to note that these aren’t the only ones available and some people prefer to use multiple (for example, ‘she/they’). Transgender and nonbinary people are likely to use pronouns which differ from the ones assigned to them at birth, but anyone can use a variation of ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’, a combination of these, or other pronouns entirely – for a helpful list, please refer to the following page: English neutral pronouns
What if I don’t know someone’s pronouns?
If this is the case, there are options available:
- Ask them what their pronouns are. Bear in mind that this should be done privately, when there isn’t any risk of ‘outing’ them to another person or group of people who may not know;
- Use their name rather than a pronoun;
- Use ‘they’ until you know for sure.
What if I – or someone else – makes a mistake?
It is important to respect a person’s pronouns once you know them. If you make a mistake addressing someone (e.g. referring to someone as ‘he’ rather than their chosen pronoun ‘she’), simply apologise and continue the conversation as normal – you should not draw attention to the mistake. Similarly, if someone else does this you can correct them and continue the conversation, following the guidance above.
Best practice adopted by the University
At the University of Bath, we encourage staff and students to share their pronouns in different ways:
- In an email;
- At the start of meetings;
- In your email signature.
These aren’t requirements, but are helpful and meaningful ways of normalising sharing pronouns that encourage others to do so, too, regardless of how they outwardly express themselves. Kaleidoscope, the University’s LGBTQ+ Network, wrote a blog post for International Pronouns Day about how this small addition benefits trans, nonbinary and cis people.
It’s important to remember that it’s okay to not know everything, to admit vulnerability and to ask questions sensitively. We’re all human and that’s how we learn. You may wish to refer to guidance on Being a Trans Ally for general advice, or contact your HR Advisor via HR Support for support and advice about yourself and others.