“The customer arrives. He understands the added value of the product. He stays and comes back. He talks about it around him. He spends."

This kind of example, where it is assumed that the customer is male, is all too common. Consciously or unconsciously we are communicating and engaging in a way that can alienate, exclude and antagonise users. It doesn’t have to be this way.

What is inclusive communication? 

Inclusive communication values the importance of words and imagery and the impact they may have on other people.  It considers verbal, written and nonverbal communication - including imagery such as pictures, icons or illustrations where people are represented. In using inclusive language we choose to avoid language that perpetuates stereotypes, negative expectations or limitations. 

What are the benefits of inclusive communication?

If products are designed around the needs of the people who use them, they will be more cost effective, user friendly and fit for purpose. By communicating in an inclusive manner through language and imagery, we demonstrate empathy to the users of our platforms and products and show that we value their experience. Communicating inclusively with users should be done as simply and as clearly as possible. Take the example of a sign up form, where a user is asked to provide their gender. Firstly, they might question why that information is necessary to the process. They may be concerned that their experience is not reflected in any of the options available to them, making them feel like they do not belong. It may also be a concern that their information could be used to their disadvantage. By stripping out unnecessary questions or posing them in a mindful and inclusive way we give our users fewer reasons to disengage.

By consciously adapting our language, we can involve an audience more authentically and inspire them to contribute and share their experience more confidently. The intention is to empathise and value the perspectives and contributions of all people to best incorporate the needs and viewpoints of diverse perspectives when developing products and cultivating connections. 

Where should I consider using inclusive language and imagery in a professional context?

  • Internal communication, e.g. presentations, emails, agile user stories, documentation, code
  • Customer facing marketing campaigns 
  • Imagery and representation of people across a product
  • Language used across a product

How can I start to communicate more inclusively and consciously?

Ask yourself if you even need to state a gender and if it is relevant to the point you are trying to make. Otherwise, use a more general and inclusive term such as they, the customer, the user, everyone.
If you use gender then use both binary pronouns: she and he. Be mindful that this option is still excluding some people who do not relate exclusively to either of those genders.  
If you only use one pronoun, e.g. he and then correct yourself, try and not draw too much attention to the correction. By overemphasising or making a joke about neglecting the use of the other pronoun you might undermine your attempts to be inclusive.

Applying inclusivity in practice: the Jobcloud case study

  • Creating new icons and illustrations depicting people in a neutral way
  • Review the need to ask for gender in creating a profile
  • Rethink email communication with users and how to address the
  • Review the need to ask job seekers to select their title: Mr/Ms when applying for a job
  • Support recruiters to write inclusive job descriptions.

By Heena Greenleaves
Head of Product at Jobcloud and former PUXie

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