Applying the principles of inclusive language to our everyday communication: An Inclusive Language Guide

A follow-up to our Inclusive Language Framework

“Language is powerful. Language impacts how we think, feel, and ultimately act.

This understanding ties together the suite of Inclusive Language resources developed at the Center for Equity, Gender & Leadership (EGAL) at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business.

Recognizing the important role that our day-to-day communications play in fostering equity and inclusion, we — with support from Google and a working group of academics, practitioners, and activists asked: How can we use words as an everyday act of compassion & inclusion? In response, we launched two research-backed resources about a year ago:

  1. An “inclusive language framework” with a set of guiding principles around inclusive language and a flowchart of questions to help navigate decisions around what words or phrases to use in different contexts, and
  2. An accompanying “snapshot” of the framework applied to commonly used words and phrases.

In the year that followed, we set out to turn our framework into a guide that is accessible to and usable by a wide range of English users across the globe. This time, we asked: How can we make our framework as clear and engaging as possible for a diverse and global set of users? What are different motivations, pain points, and learning styles when it comes to advancing inclusive language, and how might we best address them in a single resource?

With continued support from Google and our working group, we conducted extensive user research, prototyping, and usability testing. Today, we are excited to announce that we have just launched the Inclusive Language Guide, complete with a web-based interactive journey, weaving research-backed resources into a gamified experience.

Introducing our interactive Inclusive Language Guide!

The final guide can help individuals or groups assess whether words or phrases are harmful or inclusive and respectful, encouraging users to come to their own conclusions about language use in a variety of contexts. The interactive journey element takes users through a set of questions step-by-step, and provides handy resources and recommendations along the way. Additional pop-ups and hover text offer more information where needed as well.

The Inclusive Language Guide is particularly useful in certain scenarios — for example, if you are unsure about using an expression in your written or spoken communication, or if you’re looking for a way to structure a conversation about why an expression someone used might not have been the most inclusive. Of course, it is applicable to a wider range of contexts, but may not be sufficient by itself in all situations. For instance, if you’re interested in checking an entire body of text for non-inclusive language, or determining demographic or identity terms, you may need to consult additional resources, which you can find linked in the guide’s “common questions” section.

In keeping with the original framework, the guide emphasizes the importance of context and mindsets, focusing on empowering users to communicate more inclusively without dictating on a fixed set of words to use or avoid.

How we developed this guide

To begin, we conducted a landscape analysis of existing resources on inclusive language to understand the state of the field, including what language varieties and audiences existing guides were serving. This allowed us to identify what worked well–so we didn’t reinvent the wheel–and what gaps needed to be filled. We found that the majority of guides were designed for employees of large tech companies or large public institutions. We also found that most resources provided guidance on industry-specific language, and often leaned heavily on a list of terms that might be harmful alongside more inclusive alternatives. Few guides were grounded in a set of principles with a focus on mindsets and continual learning for a global set of users.

Following this initial review, we developed a set of target user personas, based on our knowledge of the current audience(s) for EGAL’s inclusive language resources as well as our goals for an expanded audience. Our seven user personas took into consideration diversity in terms of demographic factors, level of familiarity with English, as well as global representation. We outlined traits including age, education level, occupation, gender, disability status, and race and ethnicity to ensure that our personas displayed varied representation across each of these categories. In creating these personas, we took a global lens, but focused on communities around the world where English is widely used, given that our inclusive language guide is English-based. With these demographic factors established, we fleshed out the personas’ language backgrounds and perspectives on inclusive language, in a way that seemed realistic given their backgrounds. We considered the following factors:

  • Diverse language backgrounds — for instance, did users grow up speaking English, or did they begin using English as an adult?
  • Different attitudes towards inclusive language use — for example, were users already familiar with inclusive language, or were they just beginning their inclusive language journey?

With these user personas in mind, we organized focus group sessions to assess:

  • Do the principles of inclusive language in the framework resonate with users? In what ways do they resonate, and in what ways do they not?
  • Are people able to understand and use the inclusive language flowchart? More specifically, is it too academic?
  • Do people feel more confident in their ability to assess their language use after using the guide? Are they going to be comfortable leveraging it outside these sessions?

After synthesizing user feedback from the focus groups, we met with the working group to outline the strengths and weaknesses of the framework and to identify how to address the challenges that came up. In particular, users wanted more information about when and how to use the framework, as well as access to additional resources when questions came up as they were using the framework. We also discovered that the text-heavy flowchart tended to be overwhelming to users, making it challenging for them to follow as they assess different language expressions. This feedback led us to create a prototype of the fleshed out guide and interactive flowchart you see today, which leverages the metaphor of a “journey” that encourages deeper thinking, self-reflection, and mindset shifts at various stages.

Finally, we conducted a round of individual usability testing sessions with folks who had participated in our focus groups, to ensure that we addressed their concerns and did not lose sight of the elements that worked from the beginning.

Call to action

With our updated guide, we want to reiterate the message we shared last year: “Language continues to change over time, so it’s important to remember that advancing inclusive language means being committed to continual growth. Fortunately, we each have the power and opportunity with every new day to ask: How can I communicate more inclusively? Ultimately, advancing inclusive language comes back to staying curious, centering empathy, and making everyday language choices that help us understand one another.”

More concretely, we also want to encourage you to explore our new guide and share back with us: What are some decisions this resource helped you navigate?



Center for Equity, Gender & Leadership (EGAL)

At the heart of UC Berkeley's Business School, the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership educates equity-fluent leaders to ignite and accelerate change.