freedom of speech

The power of words

The power of words

Using the correct language, inclusive speech and terms of reference in the workplace can be an absolute minefield these days.  The meaning of words in the English language appear to be always changing and often words people were entirely comfortable with when describing peoples’ ethnic origins or sexual orientation can now cause offence.  It can be easy to trip up unwittingly and education and training in respect of diversity and inclusion is key.  Human interaction in the workplace is essential. Employees need to be comfortable about engaging with their colleagues and both respect and understand the power of words in line with individual sensitivities and characteristics without feeling awkward and uncomfortable.  It is for the employer to foster an environment that is inclusive and progressive so that everyone has a space and a voice and that all protected characteristics are respected equally.

Google has recently taken a further step to help users understand the power of words and respect ‘inclusive language’ by introducing a function that flashes up with a warning to writers if they use words that may not be ‘inclusive’ to all readers with its online word processing tool ‘Google docs’.  It then suggests an alternative.  Some examples include changing ‘landlord’ to ‘property owner’ and that a person is ‘living with’ a disability rather than ‘suffering from’ a disability. 

We can see some advantages with neutralising potentially offensive terminology as long as the genuine meaning of the words are not lost. One could argue that having a tool that acts as a ‘word police’ may stifle individualism, self-expression and limit free speech. There is always a balance to be struck and automating language can be beneficial so as to avoid offence as long as it is not entirely devoid of either realism or humanity. 

This blog was written by Elizabeth McGlone, Legal Director at didlaw.