The words we use matter. They shape the way we think about our work, the team, and the way we work together. If our language is positive and respectful, our behaviours and attitudes will be positive and respectful.
We thought about the words we used, and how they would be reflected in our workplace. But we deliberately never wrote this down, instead consistently lead by example in conversation and the written word.
Our team were colleagues (not employees) who worked with us (not for us). People in the recruitment process were potential colleagues (not candidates). We preferred un-gendered language when speaking about others in the abstract, such as our users. We avoided labels, especially around hierarchy and seniority.
We didn’t have junior developers. Where it was relevant, they were early career developers. (Although we did use ‘junior’ in job adverts, so it was clear who we were looking for.)
These are the more important choices we made about words. We were deliberate in all our choices of language, but especially so when they referred to people.
To make it easy to join, we avoided buzzwords and corporate language, preferring very plain English. We were happy to use more words so everything is clear to everyone, no matter how new to the team they were.
We found that our colleagues naturally picked up on the way we used language. There may have been two or three minor incidents where we didn’t like the language used, for example, referring to a mixed group as “guys”, but this was quickly dealt with by quietly and privately explaining that this was “not what we say here”. This is a lovely choice of words I picked up from somewhere, which implies it’s a choice we made, rather than suggesting anyone is a bad person for using those words.
When we had grown to a certain point, we also had to think about the way we communicated to people outside the organisation. We had a few workshops about our values and how they should be reflected, and a wonderful copywriter put together a tone of voice document that was very helpful.
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