← Table of contents

Inclusive Language Lexicon

Inclusive language in the workplace

While common workplace words and phrases may seem harmless, some have a problematic history. Here are some examples of those words, and better alternatives to convey the same meaning. This list should grow and adapt as our understanding of language evolves.

Chief

A deeply meaningful role to Indigenous communities, with a richer context than what it’s typically used to mean in corporate settings (“Chief Officer” roles or “Editor-in-Chief”). The title is also widely misappropriated, from trivializing greetings (“Hey, Chief!”) to racist expressions (“Too many Chiefs, not enough Indians”) to sports team names and imagery.

Use this instead:

  • Head of…
  • The person in charge of…

Circle the wagons

A term sometimes used to mean assuming a protective position from outside critique or interference. Its origin has racist and colonial overtones from when colonizer caravans would circle each other to protect from perceived Indigenous Peoples’ rebellion.

Use this instead:

  • Get organized
  • Line up support

Crazy or insane

These words can trivialize and further stigmatize mental health challenges.

Use this instead:

  • Strange
  • Shocking

Girl(s)

This word can belittle adults and their achievements.

Use this instead:

  • Person or people
  • If gender is relevant, woman or women

Grandfathering

A term referring to the exemption of some people from a process because of conditions that existed before. The term “grandfather clause” originated in the American South in the 1890s as a way to defy the 15th Amendment and prevent black Americans from voting.

Use this instead:

  • Legacy
  • Exempting (…from a new requirement)
  • Honouring (…an old/prior arrangement)

Guys

This word prioritizes one gender when referring to mixed-gender groups.

Use this instead:

  • People
  • Folks

Gypped

A racial slur for being defrauded or swindled. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term is “probably ultimately from a shortening of gypsy”, a word commonly used to describe the Romani people.

Use this instead:

  • Ripped off
  • Cheated

Female

A scientific designation for animals or plants. If you refer to people as females, you risk reducing them to their reproductive abilities.

Use this instead:

  • People
  • If gender is relevant, woman

Hacker

In job descriptions, the term ”hacker” can be tough for many to identify with because of its negative and criminal connotation.

Use this instead:

  • Engineer
  • Problem solver

Handicap

Some disability advocates believe this term is rooted in a correlation between a disabled person and a beggar.

Use this instead:

  • Disabled

Housekeeping

In reference to office work, this language can feel gendered and fall more on women to do.

Use this instead:

  • Maintenance
  • Administration

Ladies or gals

These terms can feel patronizing to some and misgender others.

Use this instead:

  • People
  • Folks
  • Everyone

Lame

An ableist word originally used to reference people with reduced mobility.

Use this instead:

  • Disappointing
  • Boring

Man

As in “man hours,” “manpower,” or “man the conference booth”. This is unnecessarily gendered language.

Use this instead:

  • Work
  • Staff

Master

A problematic term sometimes used to refer to one file or process with original data that either controls another process, or acts as a main source of information. As Ron Eglash, a professor at the University of Michigan wrote in a 2007 essay, “The concept of a free master that did no work and a slave that followed the master’s orders made for a vivid, if ethically suspect, technosocial metaphor.”

Use this instead:

  • Primary
  • Main

Mom, girlfriend, or grandma test

A term for putting a product in front of people to learn more about how they would use it. The assumption that if a mom or girlfriend or grandmother can use a program then anyone can, is both sexist and ageist.

Use this instead:

  • Usability test

Ninja, rockstar, or wizard

These are words sometimes used in tech job descriptions that can skew towards a gendered interpretation. This can discourage some groups from identifying with those roles and applying for them.

Use this instead:

  • Specialist
  • Advisor

Open the kimono

This is business jargon with sexist and racist overtones for sharing information about the inner workings of an organization.

Use this instead:

  • Be transparent
  • Look behind the scenes

This term for heckling or unwelcome comments originates in the 1920s. It referred to the back section of theaters, which were the only places that Black people were allowed to sit at the time. The phrase was meant to poke fun at the idea of people of color engaging in intellectualism.

Use this instead:

  • Feedback
  • Heckling

Pow-wow

This is a North American Indigenous social gathering with important cultural meaning. Using this term to describe a few people chatting about a project over a coffee can be insulting.

Use this instead:

  • Meet
  • Collaborate
  • Sync

Whitelist or blacklist

These are terms that only make sense if you equate white with “good, permitted, safe” and black with “bad, dangerous, forbidden”.

Use this instead:

  • Unblocked list or blocked list
  • Permitted list or denied list
  • Safe list or unsafe list