< Back

Cobalt holds second Cobalt Conversations: the power of inclusive language

Event 3 (2)

Article posted by Megan Bond on Feb 08, 2023

In January, Cobalt hosted its second Cobalt Conversations event, a series about diversity, equity, and inclusion, this latest event focused on inclusive language. The aim was to analyse and understand the impact of using inclusive language and discuss the challenges people are facing in approaching the ever-changing discourse around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Charlotte John, Director of Client Solutions at Cobalt, hosted the panel who each brought their own perspectives and areas of expertise to the afternoon. Blessing Buraimoh is the Head of DE&I, EMEA Workforce Advisory for JLL, and whose passion for leadership and its role in DE&I was apparent. Chelsea A. Jackson, Political Scientist and founder of think tank The Equity Architects, has experience in a variety of projects on racial equity across private and public sector. Jennie Child, founder of inclusive recruitment consultancy Balance, focussed on the importance of language to attract and retain talent. 

The event was powerful for those guests in the room, and Cobalt were delighted to be joined by some key clients as well as some fellow Real Estate Balance members. There were opportunities for genuinely open discussion on aspects of language that had been holding progress back and we wanted to ensure that guests left with direct actions they can implement.  

Why is inclusive language important for DE&I strategy? 

Often it feels like there is a DE&I elephant in the room when specifics are left unsaid or overarching terms like ‘diversity’, ‘dominant groups’, and ‘ethnic minorities’ are used. It’s either that we don’t really know what we are referring to, or that we are scared to say the wrong thing and cause offence, embarrass ourselves, or at the extreme end of the scale, be called out. At a corporate level this can be the equivalent of discrimination cases, getting bad press, high attrition, and could ultimately affect the bottom line.

Language is a powerful tool that allows us to express what is happening around us, and this power can open doors, or it can close them when used in the wrong way. Our panel reminded us that the only reason language truly matters is because of how something might land with its audience. We can’t expect everything we say to be interpreted by someone in the exact way we intended, so we need to be intentional, transparent, and respectful with our communications. 

What can companies do to adopt inclusive language? 

Psychological safety.

Creating psychologically safe workplaces to encourage people to be vulnerable about their challenges is the foundation of inclusion. This is important for both underrepresented communities as well as dominant groups – it’s imperative your employees can be open to express concern or query someone’s language, but equally as important that other employees can safely put their hands up and say they aren’t sure what words or phrases they should use when it comes to identity. ‘Dominant groups’ is often a coded phrase in companies referring to the people who are white, cis-gendered, straight, and for some organisations that will include men – but it will be different for every company depending on the make-up of your employee base.

Context is key.

We need to ensure that using descriptors about protected characteristics or other identity factors is truly necessary – referring to anyone by these when it’s unnecessary or unhelpful to the topic of conversation is a microaggression and it’s only serving to remind someone of their differences and cause divide. For example, in legal contexts, or in diversity monitoring, this is valid, or if someone has a disability this may come up at work as a practical discussion to ensure they have the appropriate adjustments in the office or to attend a meeting. But someone’s sexuality likely has less relevance in the work context, so why is that being raised in conversation? Similarly damaging is if it is being used to identify the person, such as referring to a ‘gay colleague,’ when someone would not refer to a ‘straight colleague’.

Be transparent. 

As a company and at individual level, you need to be transparent about where you are on your journey. People don’t expect everyone to be an expert, but they want to know that we’re all trying to move toward equity. People will be more understanding of someone who admits they are still learning and messes up, rather than someone who pretends to know everything and then makes the mistake. 

Utilise networks. 

Use networks like LinkedIn to seek out and follow groups, people and organisations who will keep you informed with the latest best practice. Language constantly evolves so don’t think that you can read a long list of ‘politically correct’ phrases and your homework is done.

We share our upcoming events with our clients and Real Estate Balance membership, if you would like to receive invitations and haven’t been, then please let us know so we can make sure you’re included in future Cobalt Conversations events. Or to find out how Cobalt can support inclusive hiring for your organisation and other initiatives we are running to promote representation and inclusion in the Real Estate industry then please get in touch with Charlotte John or Megan Bond.