How we chose the words to use in Project Include’s recent report
In writing a report on harm in remote workplaces since Covid-19 with Yang Hong, McKensie Mack, and Caroline Sinders, we made many deliberate language choices that could be helpful in understanding why and how words matter.
In the future, readers will find that some of the terms we use are out-of-date and do not stand the test of time. Some words have ambiguous meanings or negative connotations, and here we explain our uses and share other uses that we considered. Often, terms viewed as inclusive for some people were exclusive of others. Several identities did not have a fully inclusive term. We chose the terms we thought were most inclusive based on conversations and consultations with members of those communities we are trying to describe.
We provided a description of “harassment” in our survey for clarity: “Harassment can take the form of actions directed at aspects of someone’s identity like gender, race, perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, appearance, immigration status, socio-economic background or status, age, disability, etc., and any of the above combined. Harassment can include yelling at coworkers, uncomfortable or repeated questions about your identity or appearance, dismissive attitudes, teasing put-downs, repeated requests for dates, groping or grinding, or quid pro quo requests for sex.” (This list is based on Emily Greer’s description and was used with her permission.)
Race and ethnicity terms can be complicated. One term we have noticed is “Latine” instead of “Latinx,” a term we use. We’ve read some discussion of “Latine” as being more inclusive, because it’s easier to pronounce and more true to the Spanish language. We chose to use Latinx after consulting people from the Latinx community, because it more explicitly includes nonbinary and trans people. Here are some resources to learn more on Latina/o and Latinx, Latinx and Latine, the Indigenous-focused term Mazewalli, and a historical background. While Project Include has always capitalized the word “Black” and not “white,” it is now a more standard practice recommended, for example, in journalism. Race identities without hyphens have also become standard. We use “African American,” “Asian American” and “Native American” without hyphens in this report to reflect the use of “African,” “Asian,” and “Native” as adjectives describing types of Americans.
Our gender identities center people’s self-identification (e.g., “women” includes both trans and cisgender women). Due to small sample size and privacy concerns, we sometimes used the term “nonbinary people” to encompass all people who identify with genders that do not exist on the gender binary, including gender nonbinary, gender non-conforming, two-spirit, genderqueer, bigender, and/or as individually specified. We use “genderqueer” to describe a gender identity that may or may not fall into or fluctuate between the binary genders of man and woman. We use “queer” to describe the range of sexual orientations that exist outside heterosexual orientations. Some members of the LGBTQIA+ community dislike the terms; here is a description of reactions to “queer.”
Our survey’s gender choices included “female” and “male.” We decided to switch to the more inclusive “woman” and “man” for this report, and we will use these gender identity demographics as options in future surveys. “Woman” and “man” are more inclusive, because they describe gender identity, while “female” and “male” describe a person’s sex assigned at birth. Several respondents noted in the write-in choice that they chose “female” given their self-identification with “woman,” because we didn’t provide it as a choice. This experience highlights the importance of distinguishing between biological sex and gender identity and a more empowering survey design that includes options for individually specified text responses.
We use “workers” to include full-time or part-time employees, and independent contractors for themselves or a contracting company, and freelancers. Terms we did not use include “people of color” and “BIPOC,” which have become less helpful than listing out and specifying exactly what identities are being addressed. Over time, conversations may evolve to use even more specificity around origin country and other geographies. We encourage future research on differences based on immigration status. Colorism is another form of bias that affects people’s experiences across many races and ethnicities, and we are hearing more discussions that acknowledge colorism, though the pain around colorism is hard to navigate.
Thanks to Yang Hong and McKensie Mack for reviewing and editing this section of the report. Please read the full report to see our choices in context and for actionable, impactful solutions to harm in our workplaces. Also, language has already evolved since we published the report as reflected in this thread started by Anthony Ware about “underserved” and a term we used, “underrepresented.”