Navigating LGBTQ+ Inclusive Language – 5 Takeaways

inclusive language

Inclusive language plays a crucial role in building a culture of belonging. Fiskars Group, in collaboration with KONE, Microsoft, and Posti, co-hosted a panel discussion and networking event on LGBTQ+ inclusive language to celebrate Pride Month. The panel was moderated by Laura Matero, Inklusiiv.

The panellists were Ian Zhao (Fiskars Group), Minna Ääri (KONE), Teemu Vidgren (Microsoft), and Terhi Uusitalo (Posti). Each panellist shared their unique and valuable perspectives on how to be more inclusive in our daily interactions.

After the panel discussion, participants of the event had the opportunity to network with each other, share their own thoughts and experiences, and build meaningful connections. 

This blog post highlights the key topics discussed during the event.

What is LGBTQ+ inclusive language?

Before defining what LGBTQ+ inclusive language is, let’s start by exploring what language is in the first place. 

Language is a system of communication that allows us to express thoughts, emotions, ideas, and share information. Since language reflects our mind, it also reveals our unconscious biases through the way we talk and the words we use.

LGBTQ+ inclusive language avoids biases and stereotypes and steers clear from  making heteronormative or gender-binary assumptions. An example of LGBTQ+ inclusive language is using the word “partner” when referring to another person’s significant other until you are sure of that person’s sexual orientation or the gender of their partner. 

Sharing your pronouns is an example of LGBTQ+ inclusive language. By sharing your pronouns, you are not just normalizing the use of pronouns but also communicating to gender minorities that they are safe to share their own pronouns with you and be  themselves without the need to cover part of their identity.

“Language reflects our thinking, including stereotypes and unconscious biases. Our choice of language can therefore reinforce stereotypes about marginalised groups and make people feel left out or not seen as who they are. When we use inclusive language, we can signal openness and acceptance to all kinds of diversity among us and this way promote a more equitable view of people.” – Minna Ääri, KONE

Language evolves over time as society does. When cultural or social norms change, it affects the vocabulary and language we use. For example, using the term “parental leave” instead of “maternity leave” reflects the fact that in our current social environment, it is no longer assumed that the mother is the one staying home to take care of the kids. Instead, either parent, regardless of gender, is expected or has the equal opportunity to do so.

When fostering an inclusive culture for the LGBTQ+ community, we need to focus on the way we communicate. Inclusive language helps build an environment where everyone feels respected and included, helping to create a culture where everyone can be themselves, no matter their sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Studies have shown that when employees feel included at work, they are more likely to contribute their ideas, experience less stress and anxiety, and are happier with their jobs.

Words have power

It’s important to understand the impact of the language we use.Words can inadvertently hurt or exclude others. Studies have shown that when a person feels socially excluded or rejected, similar areas in the brain are activated as when feeling physical pain. This means that if the words we use exclude others, they can cause significant psychological harm and stress to the individual they are directed at. For this reason, it’s important to be mindful of the language we use.

We all make mistakes—this is something we can’t avoid. The most important thing is how we navigate these situations when we either have hurt someone or someone has hurt us. By having an open conversation about the intention and impact of the message, we can understand each other better. 

An open feedback culture allows us to make mistakes and, most importantly, to learn from them. If we are not allowed to make mistakes, we might end up avoiding situations in which we have to interact with people different from us, just because we are afraid of saying something wrong. 

“When we interact with colleagues or friends from different learning and working backgrounds, they may use inappropriate words unintentionally. Don’t take it personally. Instead, address the issue directly and transparently with the person in a polite and professional manner. Creating an open dialogue can help both sides.” – Ian Zhao, Fiskars Group

When someone’s comment hurts us, it’s helpful to assume that people have good intentions. In most cases, people might not be aware of the impact of their words. Giving them the opportunity to learn by openly sharing the feelings and thoughts their words have caused can help them understand a new perspective, learn from their mistakes, and adopt more inclusive language in the future.

Inclusive language benefits us all. It recognizes that everyone deserves to be respected regardless of their differences and that everyone is valuable as an unique individual.


5 tips on how to communicate inclusively

Now that you know what is inclusive language and are aware of the power of your words, here are some easy tips anyone can implement to become better with LGBTQ+ inclusive language and communication:

  • Educate yourself – Take the initiative to learn about different identities and pronouns. Understanding the nuances of gender, sexual orientation, and other aspects of identity helps us communicate more effectively. Educating ourselves fosters empathy and reduces unintentional biases.
  • Use non-gendered language and think outside gender binary – Say “Hello everyone” or “Hi all” instead of “Ladies and gentlemen” or “Hi guys” as there might be people from gender minorities or who don’t identify as gender binary in the group you are talking to. 
  • Respect pronouns – Ask and use preferred pronouns of others and share your own. Pronouns are an essential part of someone’s identity. Whether it’s “he,” “she,” or “they,” using the correct pronouns demonstrates respect and is a form of inclusion.
  • Be open to give and receive feedback – We all make mistakes; the most important thing is how we navigate through these situations. Have an open conversation about the intention and impact of your message, and learn from it.
  • Be an ally! – Set an example by using LGBTG+ inclusive language.


Additional LGBTQ+ inclusive language resources

To deepen your understanding of this topic and to explore ways to adopt more inclusive practices, here are some reading recommendations:

Blog post By Laura Matero, DEI Specialist (Inklusiiv) and Liam Zyl, Manager People Development and Engagement (Fiskars Group) 

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