A Guide to Implement the Language of Diversity

Public, private, and civil society organizations are introducing processes to communicate in an inclusive way that names diversity. Although expanding the language is not the only practice, it  is a huge step forward. Below is a guide of recommendations taken from different authors.

With “e”? Or with “x”? No, it is better to use “@”. Inclusion solved. Inclusion solved? Now that the notion of diversity has barged into the agenda, the use of inclusive language becomes, at times, challenging. Because it does not mean simply using “e”, “x” or “@”. It is about raising awareness. Its use is part of the process to achieve the change intended: inclusion.

Putting this process in motion in organizations —both public and private— entails creating a tension in patterns that have been ingrained in their culture for many years. Moving towards that transformation means that people, institutions, companies, and brands must become aware. 

In Argentina, one of the references used by official bodies to move in that direction is the guide Re-nombrar Guía para una comunicación con perspectiva de género (Re-Naming: A Guide to Communication with a Gender Perspective). Mexico uses the guidelines in Manual de comunicación no sexista – Hacia un lenguaje incluyente (A Manual to Non-sexist Communication – Towards Inclusive Language) and the guide Guía de lenguaje inclusivo de género (A Guide of Gender-Inclusive Language) is the version developed by Chile for the same purpose. There are guidelines everywhere. All of them include deep and valuable reasons to use inclusive language that are related to creating meaning. 

The Spanish language adopts as valid the use of the masculine form as a generic that includes every person. But that is not the case in all languages. For instance, in the English language —for which recommendations on the use of inclusive language also exist—, adjectives have no gender; this is different in Spanish. Thus, those who support the use of inclusive language struggle to create a new norm that is not based on the generic masculine.

For Cintia González Oviedo, founder and CEO of Bridge The Gap, “inclusive or responsible communication is not something that you choose or not; it means becoming aware that the way to communicate has an impact on the creation of culture. It is an important part of replicating a culture that normalizes and naturalizes elements that, for different reasons —whether social or because of the advent of new activism models—, create a new tension today, which is a political tension for the creation of the meaning that is considered valid.”

The construction of communication that creates new meanings is a time ―and patience―consuming process. Nowadays, guides on inclusive language can be easily found in organizations, but if those guides are not supported by specific actions, assessments, and reviews, they will be useless.

Having said that, below are some recommendations found in different guides. Some emphasize pointing out patriarchy as the cultural framework that is imprinted on the language; others advise that that which is not named does not exist, and that is a reason to change the way we communicate and to start giving visibility to those with a self-perception that differs from that established by social standard as the sole possibility until now. Other manuals remind us that language is not sexist by itself, but in its use. All advice is aimed precisely at taking up inclusion so that diversity becomes a reality.

+ When meeting a person for the first time, the self-perceived gender identity, name or nickname of the person should be asked. In other words, we should make these questions to avoid assuming an identity with which the person may not feel comfortable.

+ It is clear that the world is not divided only into men and women, but into a diversity of non-binary identities. It is necessary to respect that self-defined identity and to avoid calling out a person if they used to have one identity and now they have another. This is a bad habit that is common in the media and that, regretfully, people imitate.

+ In verbal or written communication, it is convenient to use linguistic resources that do not entail constant splitting as if it were the only path to solve sexism in language. Neutral words and expressions that go beyond masculine and/or feminine may be used considering that, ultimately, it is always about people.

+ When referring to a woman in a position in a defined space, such as a female executive in a company, feminine nouns should be used upon mentioning the position, such as “presidenta” (female president), “gerenta” (female manager), “viceministra” (female vice-minister), etc.

+ This is different when using expressions that define an activity as exclusive of men or women, because they perpetuate gender stereotypes. Everyday examples show us that other forms of expression must be found. For example, in the context of the pandemic, we commonly hear the terms “los médicos” (male doctors) and “las enfermeras” (female nurses), as if there were no female doctors nor male nurses; or “los chicos” (boys) and “las maestras” (female teachers), as if there were no girls at school nor male teachers in the classroom. 

+ “E” is only used for people, not for proper names or objects. If “e” is used when not referring to people, this trivializes a topic that requires awareness. With the use of “e”, it is possible to avoid binary language and prevent diversity from becoming invisible. “E” should be used for the plural of a diverse group of people with unknown self-perceived gender identities.

+ Redundancy should also be avoided, i.e., highlighting that a person is a woman above other characteristics related to the topic at hand.

+ As regards communication in public or brand campaigns, generic, abstract, and collective nouns should be used: people/persons, citizenry, childhood, among others.

As mentioned, these recommendations are only part of a comprehensive set of measures that an organization should drive if it truly wants to be inclusive, diverse, and rich. 

So then what? Do we use “e”, “x” or @? First, we must become aware and ask questions. “There is no easy solution for this, it takes a long time to assimilate these issues because, otherwise, the discussion on the topic is simplified,” concludes González Oviedo.

Guides reviewed

United Nations: https://www.un.org/es/gender-inclusive-language/guidelines.shtml

Re-Nombrar: https://www.argentina.gob.ar/sites/default/files/guia_para_una_comunicacion_con_perspectiva_de_genero_-_mmgyd_y_presidencia_de_la_nacion.pdf

Guía de lenguaje inclusivo: https://www.cultura.gob.cl/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/guia-lenguaje-inclusivo-genero.pdf

Manual de comunicación no sexista: http://cedoc.inmujeres.gob.mx/documentos_download/101265.pdf

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