Does Language Impact Inclusion?

A group of people sitting in a circle on chairs and talking to each other

Stubborn versus Determined….. and more!

We attended a local networking event earlier this week where we heard an interesting presentation from Kathy O’Leary, Chief Executive of Stroud District Council. One of the reasons we went along was because Kathy is a prominent champion of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and she was due to be talking about actions that Stroud District Council have taken in order to make progress in this area. We are working with a number of clients on DEI initiatives, and it is always valuable to hear about other organisations’ experiences and pass on any learnings to our clients.

Kathy gave an overview of their Gender Pay Gap reporting statistics and talked through some of the (many!) actions they are taking to build a healthy, inclusive and diverse workforce. The examples she gave were both insightful and important, but what really stuck with us were some of Kathy’s stories about her journey to a leadership role.

Kathy explained that she was the middle child growing up and was sometimes called ‘pushy’, ‘bossy’, ‘stubborn’, or ‘brash’. She was the child who had to shout to be heard and who chose to wear slightly ‘different’ clothes just to make sure she was noticed. Her confidence took a bit of a bashing and she occasionally found herself in trouble.

Fast forward 30+ years and Kathy displays the leadership characteristics that we would find in all the theory – she is now described as ambitious, assertive, determined and competitive. How do these words compare to those that were used when she was a child? She argued that one set of words have a positive spin, whilst the other set are synonyms with a negative spin. What do you think?

Ambitious – – – Pushy

Assertive – – – Bossy

Determined – – – Stubborn

Competitive – – – Brash

This is a valuable demonstration of the importance of language and a reminder to choose words with care. Inclusive practices are made achievable through a huge number of actions. Let’s make language our focus this week and see what progress that prompts.

If you’re interested, here’s an outline of one of our DEI development initiatives!

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