Equality, diversity & inclusion
Inclusive Language - Code of Practice
The University recognises that prejudice and discrimination can be formed and reinforced by the language we use. As part of its commitment to developing a more welcoming living, working and teaching environment, the University aims to increase awareness of the role that language plays in all sections of our lives and to encourage the use of language which respects and includes all communities. Such awareness is especially important as the communities making up the University are increasingly diverse.
The University, as an educational and research institution and as a responsible employer, urges its staff, students, visitors and contractors to use language in ways which contribute to extending equality, understanding and respect. If such an effort is not made, language may instead discriminate against and exclude people from aspects of University life, and may, regardless of intent, cause offence or patronise.
Discrimination through language, like other forms of discrimination or harassment, is unacceptable to the University and may also be unlawful. Any complaints about the use of discriminatory language will be treated seriously and could provide grounds for disciplinary action against staff or students. Individual members of staff and students are expected to be aware of the impact their language may have upon others. This is key in both verbal and written communication, and is particularly important for everyone who produces teaching and learning materials or other written material such as letters, memos, email messages, minutes of meetings, essays or reports. Line managers, as part of their managerial responsibilities, are expected to ensure acceptable use of language.
Selecting appropriate words is about more than appearing to do or say the right thing. It is about accurate and effective communication which neither causes offence nor excludes groups or individuals. Inclusive language not only respects all members of the community but encourages individuals to achieve their maximum potential. Furthermore, inclusive language is widely accepted as appropriate language throughout the international academic community and across all employment sectors.
Language which causes offence is not only unacceptable in itself, but may also be contrary to the University’s Code of Practice on Harassment and Bullying (document linked above). The disciplinary procedures of this Code could lead to dismissal or expulsion from the University. Furthermore, various pieces of legislation could make the use of discriminatory language unlawful.
This section outlines some examples of both discriminatory and inclusive language use, but as language is dynamic we need to be sensitive to changing expressions and meanings. In general, there are three main aspects of language use which can exclude or discriminate. First, language may be discriminatory by giving unnecessary extra visibility to a factor, such as sex, ethnic origin or disability. Second, it may be discriminatory by defining people in stereotypical ways, rather than illustrating the range of skills or activities a person may pursue. Finally, the language used to describe an individual or group may be discriminatory if it is imposed on the group rather than selected by them.
The five sections below draw attention to important issues where appropriate language is vital. However, this Code is not intended as a comprehensive guide to inclusive language use strategies. More detailed information is available from Human Resources and the Pilkington Library.
Language and Age
Negative attitudes towards older people are often evident in the language used about age. Older people are frequently omitted from images around us unless the subject being discussed refers particularly to age. It is important to include people from across the age range in examples, with, perhaps, older people shown using sporting facilities. The preferred term is usually ‘older people’ rather than ‘the elderly’, ‘pensioners’ or ‘senior citizens’. It is important to remember ageism can also be used negatively against young people, for example assuming they lack maturity, and that they are unable to contribute fully because of their youth.
Language and Race/Cultural Diversity
The University is a multicultural community reflecting both the cultural diversity of contemporary UK society and the recruitment of staff and students from all over the world. We need, therefore, to respect the identity of the person or people being addressed in lectures, letters, reports and so on. Terms such as ‘coloured’, ‘non-white’ or ‘non-European’ are problematic because they define race from a white or European perspective. The Commission for Racial Equality and other groups representing minority ethnic groups now use the terms Black, Asian and mixed race. It must be stressed that these terms are fluid and often people prefer to self-identify. To cite a local example, there are many people from the Loughborough Gujarati community who prefer to be more specifically defined as Gujarati rather than Indian. Another such example is that some members of the Italian and Polish communities prefer to be called Italian or Polish rather than ‘white’. It is important to be sensitive to identity issues to avoid giving offence which might arise, for example, if someone was born in this country and wanted to be identified as English rather than British or vice versa. It is also best to check with the person rather than making assumptions.
There is frequent inaccurate use of terms such as ‘ethnic group’ and ‘ethnic origin’ to refer only to people from minority groups. Ethnicity refers to a sense of identity arising from membership of a group sharing some or all of the following characteristics: history, language, culture, religion, or location. Accordingly, everyone belongs to an ethnic group and that group may be an ethnic majority or minority. This point is emphasised by the term minority ethnic group which is in (often unremarked) opposition to the majority ethnic group.
Language and Disability
People can be disabled through social attitudes as well as their physical condition, and these attitudes are present in some forms of language. People with disabilities are sometimes characterised as belonging to a victimised group with common needs. This characterisation is perpetuated through use of outdated terms such as ‘handicapped’, ‘sub-normal’ or ‘the disabled’. Inclusive language helps to avoid this type of characterisation. Expressions that define people in terms of their disability are unhelpful, for example, the term ‘people with epilepsy’ should be used rather than ‘epileptics’, and ‘people with a visual impairment’ rather than ‘the blind’. The preferred phrasing emphasises the person before their disability.
Language and Gender
The English language has often assumed that the world is male and excluded women from consideration. It is necessary, therefore, to be aware of ways in which selecting gender neutral words actively contributes to promoting equality. The use of ‘he’ or ‘man’ as a generic term for an individual or people is unacceptable, and often inaccurate, and terms such as ‘s/he’, ‘she/he’ or ‘she or he’ are preferable. Particular terms are often unnecessarily gendered, for example, ‘forefathers’, ‘chairman’ or ‘manpower’. Instead, you could refer to ‘ancestors’, ‘chair or convenor’ or ‘staff’. These terms convey the same meaning, but do not exclude the possibility that women may hold that post. Transgender people should be referred to by their chosen gender. The Pilkington Library has extensive further resources on gender and language.
Language and Sexuality
Language can reinforce the exclusion of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, often by the assumption that everyone is heterosexual. This exclusion is seen in the derogatory terms sometimes used, however, the preferred terms are lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. In discussions of domestic arrangements, use of the term ‘partner’ avoids marginalising same-sex, and unmarried heterosexual, couples.
Complaints about unacceptable language should be made, if possible, to the person concerned in the first instance. If this is not appropriate, contact the line manager, Head of Department or Warden. Alternatively, complaints may be made to the Equality and Diversity Adviser who will discuss the issue with you.
If you have repeated contact with someone using unacceptable language and feel their conduct may amount to bullying or harassment, speak to the University’s Harassment Adviser or, for an informal discussion, contact a member of the Confide Panel (Confide Contact Details). The University’s Code of Practice on Harassment and Bullying (document linked above) has clear and effective procedures to deal with such incidents. If you feel that you are being harassed by the language someone uses, do not feel that you have to tolerate this. There are a number of people available to help, advise and support you and you should contact one of them as soon as you feel you have a problem.
Complaints about unacceptable language will be monitored on an annual basis. The monitoring process will report to the Human Resources Committee.
University staff, students, contractors and visitors are expected to be aware of the impact their language may have upon others and to use language acceptably. Line managers, as part of their managerial responsibilities, are expected to ensure that there is appropriate and acceptable use of language.
The University is committed to acting positively to encourage a culture of respect and tolerance for its staff, students, visitors and contractors. It is involved in a programme of staff training to heighten awareness about the role language plays in these important matters. Any individual who wishes to find out more about inclusive language, including training or publications available, should contact the Equality and Diversity Adviser for further information.