UQ Guide to Using Inclusive Language

Workplace Diversity and Inclusion is currently working to develop a best practice guide on using inclusive language in work and education at UQ. 

If you have any questions or feedback about the Guide, please feel free to contact Workplace Diversity and Inclusion

Language is important

The rich diversity of our staff and students is one of UQ's biggest assets. It should be assumed, that in any group, there will be people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, with visible or hidden disabilities, representing different genders and sexualities and holding different religious and spiritual beliefs. It is our differences that make us valuable, as each member of the University community brings different perspectives, backgrounds and experiences which lead to different, bright and exciting ideas and growth.

Each of us has a responsibility to appreciate the diversity of our community and take care to ensure we are inclusive of all members of our community - whether this is talking informally with one person, in a lecture, or addressing a meeting. We also have a responsibility to make sure that reasonable members of our community do not perceive what we say as being sexist, racist, homophobic, discriminatory, or otherwise offensive.

Language is extremely powerful – it can inspire and it can destroy. Language can consciously or unconsciously offend, intimidate, belittle, exclude, reinforce harmful stereotypes and contribute to the unequal status of individuals. This is particularly important when people are in positions of relative power, or where there are limited opportunities for the audience to challenge what is being communicated (e.g. in a lecture). Jokes made at the expense of others can be harmful and propagate demeaning stereotypes. Even where no harm or malice is intended, and when used in good humour, language can be extremely harmful.

Language can also have very positive effects on people. When inclusive language is used it can make people feel included, valued and empowered. The University of Queensland values people-centric inclusive language that values and respects the diversity of people, and sees people as people – not as a stereotype, attribute or characteristic. The University has developed a UQ Guide to Using Inclusive Language to inform staff and students about inclusive language.

What is inclusive language?

Inclusive language is language that is respectful and promotes the acceptance and value of all people. It is free from words, phrases or tones that demean, insult, exclude, stereotype, infantilise or trivialise people on the basis of their membership of a certain group or because of a particular attribute.

Many offensive and derogatory terms which refer to specific groups exist within everyday language. The use of such language is unacceptable.

Inclusive language should be used in all forms of communications: verbal and written, to another individual or to a group, in private and public. For communication to be effective, it needs to appropriately address the audience it is intended for. Inclusive language is essential for good communication as it enables all people to feel included and empowered.

In order to be inclusive, language must also be accessible to all members of our community. This means that you should use appropriate language and format for the purpose of your communication. More information about accessibility can be found on the UQ Disability Inclusion webpage.

Language is dynamic and fluid and the meaning and connotations of words can change rapidly. It is important that you apply the inclusive language principles outlined in the UQ Guide to Inclusive Language, rather than learning specific appropriate phrases, as these may change meaning over time.

Where discriminatory or offensive language is being used in your presence, be proactive and challenge this - educate the person by informing them of the potential harm of that language and provide inclusive language alternatives. It is important to remember that someone from a marginalised group may not feel empowered or safe enough in some settings to speak out against such language themselves. At UQ we all work together to develop and maintain a safe, positive and inclusive environment for all people and are all responsible for the development and maintenance of this environment. 

How do I use inclusive language?

Using people-centric inclusive language is simple and can even make you a better writer and speaker!

If you have any questions or comments in regards to using inclusive language, please contact Workplace Diversity and Inclusion.

Image of people sitting at a table talking