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Creating an Inclusivity Guide for Your SMB

October 18, 2022

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Building a culture of belonging is a continuous process — one that many small businesses put their best efforts into every day.

That could look like improving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in your business through hiring and education. Or organizing employee resource groups or affinity groups — AKA, safe spaces for employees to connect over shared aspects of their identities.

And that culture of belonging doesn’t just matter to your team. The way your business presents itself to the public is a sign of how you serve your customers, no matter their identity or background. And the number one way you can prove your commitment to these ideals — internally and externally — is through communication.

From internal announcements and messages to outgoing emails and social media posts, your words are a representation of who you are as a business. (A bit of a poetic belief, yes, but as writers, we can attest to the fact that words matter.)

Plus, how your employees speak on your behalf is a reflection of you and your SMB, both within the team and amongst your customers. It’s important that your team’s communication reflects your business’ value of belonging — and the best way to hold yourself and your team accountable is with an inclusivity guide.

What is an inclusivity guide?

An inclusivity guide — also known as an inclusive language guide or inclusivity style guide — is a tool for learning about and using inclusive language. This document teaches people about the importance of awareness and support for using culturally-sensitive terminology. They include guidelines for writing with bias-free language that helps employees avoid offense and practice inclusivity.

Inclusivity guides also typically have a list of words and expressions to avoid — that way, people can steer clear of language that might exclude particular groups of people. They also include suitable alternatives for problematic terms so that employees are confident they’re using words that show respect to different communities.

Why does your SMB need an inclusivity guide?

Your small business needs an inclusivity guide for a few important reasons:

1. Providing a standard for your external communications.

We’re also a small business, so we get it: The way you speak to customers impacts your relationship with them — and that can ultimately affect your bottom line. And nowadays, having so many different ways to talk directly to your target customer base is both exciting and anxiety-inducing. For every great email campaign that converts customers, there’s a chance that a Tweet can set the internet against you.

But mostly, it’s a matter of respect. You’d never call any of your customers a jerk, right? (Even if you really, really want to — we’ve all been there.)

But seriously, the last thing you want to be is offensive. Having an inclusivity guide lets you set a standard for all your outgoing communication, and its guidelines help you avoid any accidental mishaps.

2. Supporting inclusivity within your team.

One important aspect of DEI is providing a safe and equitable workplace for all of your employees. And a crucial way to protect that culture is by promoting a certain standard for how you communicate with your team — and how they communicate with each other.

Your inclusivity guide is an educational tool, one that will help your employees better understand the diverse members of your team and bring them closer together.

Plus, your inclusivity guide can also help you with your prospective employees. For example, academic research shows that job descriptions commonly use words with gendered associations — that can sustain gender inequality in the workplace. Having an inclusivity guide can help you avoid pitfalls like that and allow you to reach a more diverse pool of talent.

3. Recognizing that impact is separate from intention.

We all speak and act with the best of intentions, especially when we interact with our co-workers and our customers. But whatever our intentions are, our words and actions have an impact on others — impact that could be negative depending on who you’re addressing.

We have to recognize that our words and actions can have repercussions and ramifications that are completely separate from what we intend. Despite that, we’re still responsible for the impact we have. Having an inclusivity guide can help steer us away from those negative impacts, keeping our intention and impact on the same course.

What to include in your inclusivity guide

Now that you understand the importance of having an inclusivity guide for your SMB, the question remains: Where do you start? Tackling a project of this magnitude can be incredibly daunting, especially considering the effect it can have on your business.

But we’ve got your back — here’s what you should include to get your inclusivity guide started:

1. A general glossary.

It’s helpful to provide a glossary of terms relating to diversity and inclusion that helps provide context for employees as they’re crafting their internal and external communications — whether that’s emails, announcements, or social media posts. Here are a few example terms (thanks Oxford English Dictionary):

  • Bias: prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.
  • Discrimination: the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.
  • Inclusion: the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of other minority groups.

For a more comprehensive list, check out this glossary from Harvard Human Resources.

2. Common pitfalls with identity-related terms.

There are many different categories of characteristics that can be used to describe particular groups of people. These identity-related categories can include:

  • Age.
  • Disability status.
  • Race, ethnicity, and culture.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Gender.
  • Socioeconomic status.

It’s important to only refer to these characteristics in communications when it’s relevant. Also, inclusive language is always evolving as terminology becomes obsolete and more contemporary replacements emerge. You want to avoid using problematic or outdated terminology that can perpetuate stereotypes or discrimination.

For example, some people and/or groups prefer person-first language while others prefer identity-first language. Person-first language means placing the person first in the sentence structure before their condition (e.g. writing “a person with a disability” instead of “a disabled person”). Using person-first language recognizes their humanity before their condition.

Conversely, some people and/or groups prefer identity-first language, which places the condition before the person in the sentence. This allows them to claim the condition versus allowing others to use terms with negative connotations. (For example, most Deaf individuals prefer to be called Deaf rather than “hearing impaired.”)

It’s up to you and your team to determine what works best for communications amongst yourselves and how you address the customers you serve. Your inclusivity guide will be specific to your business — review the guide with your human resources or people operations teams to prioritize what’s most important to your business’ values. And get feedback from your employees and your customers. That way, you’ll get a better understanding of what’s most important to them from a DEI perspective.

If you need some help determining which identity-related terms to use, the American Psychological Association (APA) has a pretty comprehensive list of words to avoid and suitable alternatives.

3. Microaggressions to avoid.

A microaggression is a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group. These can come in the form of culturally appropriative and pejorative language or violent language that can harm people and/or groups.

Often, people aren’t even aware they’re using microaggressions. To avoid using them, we have to learn to recognize them first. (Again, the APA has a list of common microaggressions, making it a great place to start educating yourself.)

As you spend more time building your inclusivity guide and doing your own research, you’ll find that there’s a lot more information you can add to what you find here.You’ll also realize that your inclusivity guide will always be a work in progress. We mentioned it before — as society evolves, words and phrases that we use today may not be considered inclusive in the future. You’ll definitely stumble along the way — we all do. The most important thing is that we learn from our mistakes and continue to grow and develop. Continuously adding and improving your inclusivity guide is part of that development.

Building belonging is a journey — and developing your inclusivity guide is an important step.

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Article

Creating an Inclusivity Guide for Your SMB

October 18, 2022

Jump to a section
Share it!
Sign up for our newsletter
You're all signed up! Look out for the next edition of The Manual Weekly coming Wednesday am!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Building a culture of belonging is a continuous process — one that many small businesses put their best efforts into every day.

That could look like improving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in your business through hiring and education. Or organizing employee resource groups or affinity groups — AKA, safe spaces for employees to connect over shared aspects of their identities.

And that culture of belonging doesn’t just matter to your team. The way your business presents itself to the public is a sign of how you serve your customers, no matter their identity or background. And the number one way you can prove your commitment to these ideals — internally and externally — is through communication.

From internal announcements and messages to outgoing emails and social media posts, your words are a representation of who you are as a business. (A bit of a poetic belief, yes, but as writers, we can attest to the fact that words matter.)

Plus, how your employees speak on your behalf is a reflection of you and your SMB, both within the team and amongst your customers. It’s important that your team’s communication reflects your business’ value of belonging — and the best way to hold yourself and your team accountable is with an inclusivity guide.

What is an inclusivity guide?

An inclusivity guide — also known as an inclusive language guide or inclusivity style guide — is a tool for learning about and using inclusive language. This document teaches people about the importance of awareness and support for using culturally-sensitive terminology. They include guidelines for writing with bias-free language that helps employees avoid offense and practice inclusivity.

Inclusivity guides also typically have a list of words and expressions to avoid — that way, people can steer clear of language that might exclude particular groups of people. They also include suitable alternatives for problematic terms so that employees are confident they’re using words that show respect to different communities.

Why does your SMB need an inclusivity guide?

Your small business needs an inclusivity guide for a few important reasons:

1. Providing a standard for your external communications.

We’re also a small business, so we get it: The way you speak to customers impacts your relationship with them — and that can ultimately affect your bottom line. And nowadays, having so many different ways to talk directly to your target customer base is both exciting and anxiety-inducing. For every great email campaign that converts customers, there’s a chance that a Tweet can set the internet against you.

But mostly, it’s a matter of respect. You’d never call any of your customers a jerk, right? (Even if you really, really want to — we’ve all been there.)

But seriously, the last thing you want to be is offensive. Having an inclusivity guide lets you set a standard for all your outgoing communication, and its guidelines help you avoid any accidental mishaps.

2. Supporting inclusivity within your team.

One important aspect of DEI is providing a safe and equitable workplace for all of your employees. And a crucial way to protect that culture is by promoting a certain standard for how you communicate with your team — and how they communicate with each other.

Your inclusivity guide is an educational tool, one that will help your employees better understand the diverse members of your team and bring them closer together.

Plus, your inclusivity guide can also help you with your prospective employees. For example, academic research shows that job descriptions commonly use words with gendered associations — that can sustain gender inequality in the workplace. Having an inclusivity guide can help you avoid pitfalls like that and allow you to reach a more diverse pool of talent.

3. Recognizing that impact is separate from intention.

We all speak and act with the best of intentions, especially when we interact with our co-workers and our customers. But whatever our intentions are, our words and actions have an impact on others — impact that could be negative depending on who you’re addressing.

We have to recognize that our words and actions can have repercussions and ramifications that are completely separate from what we intend. Despite that, we’re still responsible for the impact we have. Having an inclusivity guide can help steer us away from those negative impacts, keeping our intention and impact on the same course.

What to include in your inclusivity guide

Now that you understand the importance of having an inclusivity guide for your SMB, the question remains: Where do you start? Tackling a project of this magnitude can be incredibly daunting, especially considering the effect it can have on your business.

But we’ve got your back — here’s what you should include to get your inclusivity guide started:

1. A general glossary.

It’s helpful to provide a glossary of terms relating to diversity and inclusion that helps provide context for employees as they’re crafting their internal and external communications — whether that’s emails, announcements, or social media posts. Here are a few example terms (thanks Oxford English Dictionary):

  • Bias: prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.
  • Discrimination: the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.
  • Inclusion: the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of other minority groups.

For a more comprehensive list, check out this glossary from Harvard Human Resources.

2. Common pitfalls with identity-related terms.

There are many different categories of characteristics that can be used to describe particular groups of people. These identity-related categories can include:

  • Age.
  • Disability status.
  • Race, ethnicity, and culture.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Gender.
  • Socioeconomic status.

It’s important to only refer to these characteristics in communications when it’s relevant. Also, inclusive language is always evolving as terminology becomes obsolete and more contemporary replacements emerge. You want to avoid using problematic or outdated terminology that can perpetuate stereotypes or discrimination.

For example, some people and/or groups prefer person-first language while others prefer identity-first language. Person-first language means placing the person first in the sentence structure before their condition (e.g. writing “a person with a disability” instead of “a disabled person”). Using person-first language recognizes their humanity before their condition.

Conversely, some people and/or groups prefer identity-first language, which places the condition before the person in the sentence. This allows them to claim the condition versus allowing others to use terms with negative connotations. (For example, most Deaf individuals prefer to be called Deaf rather than “hearing impaired.”)

It’s up to you and your team to determine what works best for communications amongst yourselves and how you address the customers you serve. Your inclusivity guide will be specific to your business — review the guide with your human resources or people operations teams to prioritize what’s most important to your business’ values. And get feedback from your employees and your customers. That way, you’ll get a better understanding of what’s most important to them from a DEI perspective.

If you need some help determining which identity-related terms to use, the American Psychological Association (APA) has a pretty comprehensive list of words to avoid and suitable alternatives.

3. Microaggressions to avoid.

A microaggression is a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group. These can come in the form of culturally appropriative and pejorative language or violent language that can harm people and/or groups.

Often, people aren’t even aware they’re using microaggressions. To avoid using them, we have to learn to recognize them first. (Again, the APA has a list of common microaggressions, making it a great place to start educating yourself.)

As you spend more time building your inclusivity guide and doing your own research, you’ll find that there’s a lot more information you can add to what you find here.You’ll also realize that your inclusivity guide will always be a work in progress. We mentioned it before — as society evolves, words and phrases that we use today may not be considered inclusive in the future. You’ll definitely stumble along the way — we all do. The most important thing is that we learn from our mistakes and continue to grow and develop. Continuously adding and improving your inclusivity guide is part of that development.

Building belonging is a journey — and developing your inclusivity guide is an important step.

Article

Creating an Inclusivity Guide for Your SMB

October 18, 2022

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