The Importance of Inclusive Language and Design in Tech

The tech industry has an inclusivity problem, and everyone knows it. The field has been the domain of white men for many years and despite efforts to change that reality, diversity really hasn’t improved much in the last few years. 

Language and design can go a long way toward making the workplace feel welcoming and inclusive — or they can do the exact opposite. Inclusive language and design in tech are critical for improving diversity and the overall performance of a company. Here’s why. 

Why Does Tech Have a Diversity & Inclusion Problem? 

There are a lot of factors involved in tech’s lack of diversity, but one of the main problems is an overwhelming sense of exclusion among people who are not white and male. They have extra challenges and expectations they must face if they want to stay in the industry. 

Women and minorities in tech often feel extremely unwelcome and don’t feel empowered to speak up, even when they have great ideas. Not only does this reduce innovation and stifle potential profits, but it perpetuates the image of the tech industry as a “boys’ club.”

Worse? Many people feel that their workplaces in the tech world are openly hostile to anyone who is “different.”

Making Language and Design More Inclusive 

So, why do inclusive design and language matter so much? 

Mainly, because the language society currently uses is often gendered, racist, or otherwise exclusionary. When the words used by an organization are gender-specific or play into stereotypes, it can be insulting or cause people to disconnect and feel excluded. Language that assumes a certain experience or income level can also be exclusionary and has unintended consequences. 

It’s important for companies to think very carefully about both their internal and external messaging. By making just a few changes to the language they use, they can become much more welcoming and inclusive for employees and customers. Inclusive language signals that the company values everyone and welcomes diverse perspectives. 

Design can also be exclusionary. Videos and images without a description or captioning can be inaccessible for people who are visually impaired or hearing impaired. Certain colors can be difficult or impossible for people with colorblindness to distinguish, as well. These are just a few obstacles that designers need to consider when creating inclusive and accessible designs. 

Language and Access Are Powerful 

Many people believe that words don’t really matter, as long as the intention is in the right place. Some feel that small changes to language and design are unnecessary in the broader picture. These attitudes come from a place of privilege, however, and ignore the very real consequences of exclusionary language and design. 

Language is extremely powerful, whether it’s used to lift people up or tear them down. We know just how devastating propaganda can be in affecting the worldview and actions of others, so when people say that “words don’t matter,” it means that they don’t understand how language can be used to manipulate people.  

Exclusionary design limits access, something that most people don’t consider because they don’t have to. Not only does this unnecessarily exclude people from enjoying the same access as everyone else, but it also signals to those it excludes that they don’t matter. Gatekeeping through design choices, whether intentionally or unintentionally, signals that a tech company doesn’t care about people and their overall experience. 

Good Leaders Understand That Details Matter 

The best leaders in tech understand that details matter. They understand why it’s so important to use inclusive language and to promote diversity within their team and company messaging. 

People will notice the details, and the best leaders know that by making diversity and inclusion a priority and a cultural value within their organization, they will see better overall results. People notice when there is no diversity in a company’s marketing, and they notice when there are access issues due to exclusionary designs. 

A great leader balances the needs of employees with the needs of their organization. Fortunately, prioritizing diversity and inclusion is a win-win for everyone! 

Implementing Inclusion in the Tech Industry

So, what can tech companies do to implement these important changes? First, it’s important to start with a review. What changes need to be made in both internal (employee-facing) and external (company-facing) language and design? Depending on the size of the company, it can be worthwhile hiring an outside consultant for this type of audit. 

Next, those changes need to be implemented. In addition to simply making these changes, it’s important for companies to create a style guide that can be used going forward. This style guide will help ensure consistency and inclusivity in the future, as well as in the present. 

Finally, tech companies need to work on their diversity problem. Without hiring people of different races, backgrounds, genders, and other diverse attributes, it won’t be easy to ensure that language and design continue to be accessible and welcoming for all. 

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