Part 4 - Communicating Inclusivity


Clear, bias-free terminology is essential for communicating both internally, such as policies, memos or other documents, as well as externally in publications, websites and correspondence.

Consider creating your own guidelines and putting them in a style guide or manual for all employees, volunteers and board members to refer to.  As language is constantly evolving, it may be necessary to seek advice or more information for situations that are unclear.

Things to consider:

  • Check with individuals to see the phrases or pronouns they prefer to use.
  • Generally, descriptors that refer to personal attributes such as race, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age, for example, tend to over-emphasize and draw undue attention. Avoid the use of such descriptors unless they are absolutely relevant and valid.
  • When communicating in the workplace it is best to avoid jargon, slang, idiomatic expressions, acronyms or colloquialisms.
  • It is also important to be aware of how jokes or general comments may be perceived by others in the workplace. Certain jokes could be considered a form of harassment or cross legal boundaries.

Specific suggestions for inclusive terminology:

Employees with Disabilities
• If for any reason, you must refer to a person with disabilities, use language that focuses on the person and not the disability (e.g. “Barbara uses a wheelchair for mobility” rather than “Barbara’s disabled.”)

Race and Ethnicity
• When it is necessary to describe people collectively, the term ‘racialized person’ or ‘racialized community’ is increasingly preferred;  these terms express race as a social construct and do not promote broad “minority” categorizations.

• The use of ‘Aboriginal Peoples’ is preferred as it emphasizes the diversity of people within the group. Aboriginal Peoples refers to the Aboriginal population in Canada collectively, including First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.  ‘Native Peoples’ is a collective term to describe the descendants of the original people of North America and is increasingly seen as outdated.

Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation
• Gender neutral terms and phrasing are preferred. In general, it is not necessary to specify the gender of a person in a particular role as most occupations are not gender defined (e.g. it can be as simple as substituting “their” for "his" and "her”).
• Terms such as trans, transgender, transsexual, non-binary, a-gendered, and genderqueer refer to gender identity, not sexual orientation. Check with individuals to see the pronouns they use.
• Heterosexual orientation should never be assumed. Get in the habit of referring to partners or spouses. Where appropriate in any communication, internal or external, include examples of same-sex partners and families, and LGBTTIQ2S (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex, two-spirited and queer) lives and experiences.
• Avoid defaulting to umbrella terms like ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual.’ Use LGBT or LGBTTIQ2S to refer to a broad community.


Dig Deeper

Diversity language guidelines – Explores in more detail inclusive language guidelines:

Guidelines for gender-neutral language:

Glossary of terms: 

Guidelines for eliminating ethnic and racial stereotypes:

Disability Etiquette and Communications Guide: 

More resources: