LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the workplace: How to use inclusive language at work

Workplaces that use inclusive & respectful language for all genders & sexual orientations set the start for advancing LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the workplace.


Some say that actions speak louder than words, but it doesn’t mean that words should be completely overlooked. Today, people have more freedom to express their genders and sexual orientations, and inclusive language has become a key part of how people acknowledge and show their respect for the diversity of their colleagues, friends, and family.

People who aren’t familiar with inclusive language may find themselves stressed out about having conversations around these topics since it can be confusing. Some people may even worry about offending someone. This can be especially true when the conversation is around LGBT, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

But in order to genuinely practise LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the workplace where employees have the right to be themselves, everyone needs to make it their responsibility to appreciate inclusive language and use it correctly.

Understanding inclusive language 

LGBTQIA+-inclusive language has a single purpose: to refer to LGBTQIA+ individuals in a positive and respectful way that acknowledges their diversity. 

When it comes to the workplace there are many scenarios where we introduce people to others or have discussions. When it comes to LGBTQIA+ individuals we need to use language that supports their identities and boundaries and refrain from using offensive terms. While the majority of individuals actively refrain from using any offensive language, there are times when innocent uses of language can make those identifying as LGBTQIA+ feel uncomfortable or excluded. This is commonly known as ‘microaggressions.’

Many LGBTQIA+ individuals have faced microaggressions and discrimination as a result of hate speech and intolerance but with inclusive language organisations can eliminate inequalities and create better LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the workplace.

Clearing up the confusion around inclusive language

In order to have a proper conversation about inclusive language in the workplace, we must first understand some of the most commonly misused terms.

Gender identity: This refers to an individual’s internal sense of identifying as a female, male, fluid, non-binary, or both male and female. Generally, people choose to express themselves through the way they dress and act or even through their physical characteristics. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you can never assume someone’s gender identity based on these characteristics.

Sex: This refers to the biological characteristics that separate genetic males and females.

Sexuality: This is one’s attraction to people of a certain gender or sex.

Here are a few of the frequently overlooked words and phrases that could be replaced to promote inclusive language at work.

Frequently overlooked words
Inclusive language
He, him, she, her
They, them, first name
What should I call you?
What are your pronouns?
Boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, husband
Spouse, partner
Ladies and gentlemen
Team, people, colleagues

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it should give you a good starting point to think about how you approach your colleagues and promote LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the workplace.

A few thoughts on pronouns

You may have noticed that people are adding their pronouns to their social media profiles and email signatures, and some are even mentioning it at meetings. All this is a great way to normalise the practice of not assuming a person’s gender. When LGBTQIA+ individuals are supported they are more comfortable and confident to bring their whole selves to work rather than just the segments that they feel are accepted.

For instance, if you’re meeting someone for the first time at a meeting then you can ask for their pronouns before the meeting and identify them correctly. It’s important to remember that doing this doesn’t mean we’re asking them to disclose their gender or their sexual orientation, it’s a simple act of respecting their identity.

Inclusive language is also a great way to avoid bias. Including inclusive language such as ‘they’ as opposed to ‘he/she’ in contracts or other legal documents can be a great step.

Instead of saying ‘the lesbian community’, you can say ‘people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.’ This way you can avoid incorrectly assuming that everyone has the same experiences or characteristics.

Final thoughts on LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the workplace from Kinhub

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace are important and if it’s being overlooked employees will not be comfortable revealing their gender identity or sexual orientation. Additionally, organisations shouldn’t think of inclusion as something that needs to be forcibly exposed, but as something that’s voluntarily revealed by the individual in a culture that is inclusive and trustworthy.

This is why incorporating inclusive language into an organisation’s values can help create a more welcoming and safer space for LGBTQIA+ employees in the workplace.

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