Information about inclusive language and what to do if a member uses inappropriate language
The language we use shows members that they're in a safe and inclusive environment
Taking time to use inclusive language shows members with different needs, experiences and backgrounds that you respect their differences and are taking steps to make sure that they feel included and valued.
There is no single approach to inclusive language, as every member’s experiences and needs are different.
Top tips for inclusive language
- It’s always okay to ask. If you're unsure about how to refer to a person or how to talk about their needs or background, ask them. They will have preferred language that they use.
- If you make a mistake, apologise, correct the mistake and move on.
- Always put the person first, for example 'a girl with a disability.' This makes sure that the person is the focus, not their characteristic.
The use of insensitive or inappropriate language can create a hostile environment for people who have protected characteristics, as well as other members of the group.
There may be times when, in order to maintain this commitment, you will have to confront insensitive and unacceptable language. We have put together the following guidance to help you.
It is not our intention to police the language that is used by members, but to ensure that you have the tools you need to make Girlguiding can be as open and inclusive as possible.
What is unacceptable language?
Inappropriate or unacceptable language highlights perceived or actual differences between people.
This may have historical implications and is generally intended to cause offence. Even if framed under ‘being a joke’ this still isn't acceptable. Very often these can be linked to personal traits, such as a defining characteristic or sexuality.
As the English language is constantly evolving and developing, there may be some terms that were previously acceptable which are now considered offensive. There may also be some words which feel extremely removed from their original meaning.
If a person uses an offensive term to describe themselves
Sometimes individuals or communities reclaim offensive words or phrases to refer to themselves. If so, it's not necessarily appropriate to challenge the individual on their use of that language. Make sure that you're careful about how other members of the group use these terms.
If a young person uses insensitive or unacceptable language
Calmly explain to them why the language might offend people and that this language is not acceptable. You may wish to use phrases such as ‘we don’t use words like that at Girlguiding because it can be upsetting to people’.
You may wish to talk to the entire group about the language and use this to facilitate a wider discussion.
Do not make an example of the person who has used the language. And if the term was aimed at an individual or a group make sure to not bring attention to that group or individual. This may make them more uncomfortable.
If another adult uses offensive language
There may be times when another adult uses inappropriate or offensive language. If you're not comfortable challenging them on their language, consult your commissioner who will be able to give you further support.
Further help and guidance
Stonewall have produced a resource to help teachers challenge homophobic language. The resource, which will also be useful within a unit setting, provides straightforward and practical ways to tackle inappropriate language.
The GOV.UK website has information on appropriate language to use when talking about disabilities.