Partnering for Inclusive Language
In this episode of Green Room 42, practicing professionals from technical and professional communications fields come together to discuss how inclusive language impacts their work. We share some common mistakes and some of the ways we can partner to develop Industry-wide standards for Inclusive Language with helpful lists and positive alternatives.
Janice Summers and Liz Fraley speak with Larry Kunz, Steven Jong, Karsten Wade, and Dr. Lucía Dura.
For transcript, links, and show notes: https://tccamp.org/episodes/words-have-meaning-partnering-for-inclusive-language/
[00:00:13.020] - Janice Summers
Welcome everybody to the Room 42 Green Room. This is a place for a small group discussion where we invite guests to come and share their insights and their opinions based and their practical experience in the field. These sessions are unique; they are completely unscripted and unrehearsed. We're going to talk about a topic that is of interest today and see it from different perspectives. We'll find out what happens through the course of the conversation and what lessons we can all learn together.
[00:00:50.730] - Janice Summers
So today I want to welcome our Green Room guests, and we have Larry Kunz, Karsten Wade, Steven Jong, and Dr. Lucía Dura, and all of these people have been invited to come and share their thoughts and opinions. They all have a certain passion around the topic of inclusion and inclusive words, and they've all agreed to give up their time to come share their thoughts and insights and some pointers.
[00:01:18.270] - Janice Summers
So we're going to discuss inclusive language, how it impacts our work, and share some common mistakes that people make along the way. We'll possibly talk about how we can work together to maybe do something as creative as create an industry-wide inclusive dictionary so we can look for words or standards that help us all do better and be better with language.
[00:01:43.530] - Janice Summers
All right. Thank you all for being here. I really appreciate it. I'm going to start it out with just a silly question and open for anyone to answer. Why is inclusive language important?
[00:02:01.450] - Steven Jong
From a business perspective, companies are trying to get money from as many people as possible. If there's a segment of the population that doesn't want to do business with them because of the language that they use, that's bad for business. So just from a cold business perspective: get money from as many people as possible.
[00:02:24.850] - Larry Kunz
Now, modern marketing is more and more about the personal. It used to be just broadcast, advertise in the mass media to everyone the same message. Not anymore. It's very personal and you see the websites trying to get all your personal information so they know what ads to feed to you.
[00:02:44.770] - Larry Kunz
We don't want to have people feel excluded, whether it's marketing or whether it's technical documentation, or whether it's software interfaces. We want everyone to feel comfortable and included. So that's why it's important, and as Steve said, if you don't do that, your competitors will and it's bad for your business.
[00:03:09.530] - Lucía Dura
From a different perspective, I think it's also... I see inclusion as additive. This isn't about including somebody else so that then they can take other people's place. It's just having more perspectives at the table and that certainly enriches conversation, enriches design, and it helps us do better, I think.
[00:03:42.630] - Karsten Wade
Yeah. I was just thinking just the way that they also... Since language is so representative— just even narrowing in on a business example— the language you're using to talk about your customers and your partners and the whole market... For example, in information technology and technology industry, we see war metaphors or sports metaphors or things like that used all the time.
[00:04:13.290] - Karsten Wade
When a customer's sight becomes a hail that has to be taken or something, we've now shifted over and even if you're not saying it to their face, you're talking about them internally. I think it's going to bring a different attitude. It's going to bring something there. So by changing your external language, it gives you a chance to change your internal and reflexive language.
[00:04:31.160] - Karsten Wade
If you make your external and internal lineup, then you get rid of all of those. And you've also clarified your language, too, because with the hail to be taken, until you understand all the details of what that metaphor means when it's more easy to use a simple term, like a goal to achieve or something like that.
[00:04:47.400] - Janice Summers
Right. Because word choices matter and they're important, and they set an emotive tone. Like you said, if you're really aggressive, you're going to end up with a lot of aggression. And it makes it a lot easier for a lot more people to access the information.
[00:05:07.510] - Janice Summers
I think of it from a perspective of somebody who tries to write information that's going to inform or instruct somebody, that I want to make sure that I'm using language that's not going to make them just a little off-put because they lose the message.
[00:05:27.570] - Janice Summers
If I'm using phrases that might be offensive, even if they're not intentional, but they might be offensive, then that person is a little off-put I think in how they're going to interact with the content that I'm providing for them, instructions to do a task. I think it will influence their receptiveness.
[00:05:49.870] - Larry Kunz
Yeah. They may not even realize it, but they'll have that sense of "I don't belong here. This is not a place where I'm welcome."
[00:05:59.090] - Lucía Dura
You can go from that, from being welcome to seeing people enrolled that they didn't see themselves in before. I have a concrete example in mind, but some of my work involves being on the board of the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. One of the things that we recently did or I helped them do is every month they have a case that goes out to the legal community, and it's one of those difficult ethical cases.
[00:06:28.790] - Lucía Dura
But if we write that the... I'm going to mix this up because I'm not an attorney. I remember one of the cases was somebody was inheriting to their children. So this was about an inheritance, and if the person that was inheriting was conceptually defined as white based on their name only, and the lawyer was white based on their name, what assumptions are we putting out there versus showing some diversity?
[00:07:06.890] - Lucía Dura
That there could be a landowner who happens to be Mexican, or black, or something else. So giving other perspectives so that people can imagine that there are attorneys who are not white in Texas or there are landowners who are not white and almost like painting those people into the landscape that people imagine. I think that can have an impact.
[00:07:35.190] - Janice Summers
[00:07:37.590] - Karsten Wade
What that flashes on me is something else, Lucía, that you brought up earlier about the zero-sum thinking, is there enough pie for everybody? It feels like that fear that there's not enough, that if I give up this word, then that's going to erase me somehow when it comes in. Then you imagine that being erased versus the picture you just draw where by drawing people into the picture and saying there's room for everybody and it's that opposite of erasing, I think.
[00:08:04.720] - Karsten Wade
A lot of this may be that we— sometimes it's just these one-on-one conversations of talking to people and just hearing out their particular concern, and in theory, helping them see that transition over about how to make a difference.
[00:08:17.680] - Karsten Wade
That's some of the stuff that I've been seeing in the community work that we've been doing is when everyone wants to posture in front of everybody else, that's when the time to start breaking out the, you know, 1984's Newspeak [fictional language in George Orwell's novel 1984] or whatever that are completely... as compared to when you really could hear somebody out and get them off of the high sense.
[00:08:43.470] - Janice Summers
So you mean like if they're being resistive to changing phrases? Yeah, sensitive.
[00:08:49.690] - Karsten Wade
I think afraid, really. It feels to me a lot of times a lot of this stuff is fear, especially when someone's coming angry or aggressive. That's... Why are you fighting, why do you feel attacked?
[00:09:01.390] - Janice Summers
Yeah, because we kind of hold on to words, too. We get an attachment. It's like you're talking about the iconography. These are icons that we grew up with, so why isn't everybody else get on board with it? And yet there's a whole generation that have no idea what a floppy disk is. A floppy what?
[00:09:23.770] - Karsten Wade
When they're trying to use a user interface, the visual clue is not there for them until they get taught that one. There's not the intuition, as in, the evolution hasn't happened. I'm not a user interface expert but there's probably good reasons why we phase things in and phase things out over time.
[00:09:42.410] - Janice Summers
That's another thing with words and inclusive language is because... Think about the times where someone who comes from a different culture and we might use a word that they don't comprehend the same way we do. If we're trying to give them an instruction manual to repair something and we're using words that they don't understand, then we've just sabotaged their ability to perform a task.
[00:10:09.250] - Larry Kunz
Or words that have a different connotation in their culture.
[00:10:15.230] - Steven Jong
That's a great point, and it's a good argument for simplified English or simplified language where you use fewer words but try to be very careful about how you use them. I think that what you're saying is quite true when coming up with examples or analogies.
[00:10:37.920] - Steven Jong
I'm thinking of architectural analogies. I have been in the business for a long time, and for I think almost the whole time when we would talk about certain architectural ideas we'd fall back on what we think are common situations. I'm thinking specifically about mailboxes; I can't tell you how many different software products communicate through mailboxes and there's always the same architectural picture with an icon of a mailbox.
[00:11:08.700] - Steven Jong
And it was only in recent years that I realized when I think of a mailbox, I think of a suburban on a post mailbox, open the door, get the mail and go back in the house mailbox. It's only for a certain part of a certain country, and more than half of the world is in an urban setting where a mailbox is in a bank of things on a wall and you unlock the door and you open it up or some other analogy, and it actually affects your thinking.
[00:11:37.190] - Steven Jong
If the image that you have in mind is not the image that the reader has in mind, and if half of the world has no idea what you're talking about when you say "mailbox", you're not really communicating with them.
[00:11:49.990] - Lucía Dura
What you are communicating, in a sense, is this is kind of the dominant language or architecture, and so you will adapt to it because it's dominant, and also you will aspire to it. That message is— I don't know if it's explicit or implicit, but...
[00:12:10.230] - Karsten Wade
That raises a question that I've been thinking about around simplified language and talking around a little bit, so let me ask this and see what you think. Is there any advantage or disadvantage to putting simplified language as an argument first or putting or insisting on inclusivity and the experience of the humans on the other side?
[00:12:38.410] - Karsten Wade
One puts the experience of humans in terms of their confusion, and the other puts the experience of humans in terms of their identity in the world. What advantage of this then is there by putting either one of those in first? Like we have a dictionary or something we're putting out and here's the reasons why you want to change this word over. Are we going to start with simplified language block? Are we going to start with this other block?
[00:13:04.130] - Larry Kunz
That's a Venn diagram with a big overlap. It really is. I think we talked about globalization and localization 10, 20 years ago. Don't use that mailbox that Steve described because most of the world doesn't know what it is. Now we're talking more about, as Karsten said, what people see as their identity, who they are. Do we use careless terms? The classic example in the computer industry is "master and slave".
[00:13:34.290] - Larry Kunz
We have carelessly used those for a long time, and now we see that those are highly offensive to some people. What do we do about that? Do we keep on using them? No, I don't think so. As Steve said before, it's bad business if we do because people are going to be turned away.
[00:13:54.590] - Steven Jong
It's funny you should mention that, Larry. I can actually go back and directly remember when I first started in the business, that was an acceptable term, and it was used in an architectural sense. I remember the first time, at least at the company I was at, 40 years ago, the first people who said maybe we shouldn't use the terms "master and slave".
[00:14:20.840] - Steven Jong
That was resisted fiercely mainly by the software engineers who said "master and slave" is exactly the right technical term. There is no other word and phrase, no other combination of words that expresses what master and slave means. You can't change it. At least 40 years ago that carried the day. It didn't change for a long time.
[00:14:46.050] - Steven Jong
More recently, people have come back and said, "No, no, it really is offensive and you don't need to say it. We could say other things." It's only within the last couple of years that it made it to my current employer style guide, the Tech Pubs Group, the corporate group said, take it out of our documentation, take it out of the product.
[00:15:08.750] - Steven Jong
There is no longer any resistance to that and we are taking it out, except when the software uses it and there it becomes a problem. We are now filing bug reports that say it uses this term. Literally today, I was reading one of our product manuals evaluatively, and I came across it in the software. It's in network configuration files. There's "master and slave," and I don't think we can take it out because it won't work if you don't use those terms.
[00:15:42.530] - Steven Jong
I think we can all help by pushing all of our employers to remove it not just from the books, but from the software. It may be difficult, but the tide has certainly turned. I haven't heard anybody arguing in favor of those terms in a long time.
[00:16:06.050] - Janice Summers
You bring up a good point, too. That some of these words and phrases that we've used we've used for years and years and years, like master-slave that goes back into the automotive days and working on vehicles. The old cars didn't have all the electronics, back in the day.
[00:16:21.410] - Karsten Wade
Like the master cylinder. Probably where the engineers got it from was that there was an engineering mentality and culture. Just two things that sparked in my mind and one was that we started working on that... When I say we I mean the company I work at is an open-source software company, and we've got our hands in a lot of different pies and are able to help influence to different degrees what's going on there.
[00:16:53.290] - Karsten Wade
So last summer, we started an initiative to change, specifically two sets of terms "blacklist" and "whitelist," and then "master and slave" on a technical coding level and a number of projects that Red Hat's got direct activity and can go in there and make influence and make the changes happen and the dashboard to track it and so forth.
[00:17:14.610] - Karsten Wade
It's a long, slow process because some instances are much easier to change than others. Ultimately you've got to give every group a chance to really think about the technical aspect of it and all you can ask people to do is to put it on their roadmap and do the work. It's not something that can be flipped overnight.
[00:17:29.830] - Karsten Wade
But on the other side, you've got— because all of this dynamic happened, one of the large co-repositories in the world on GitHub changed last summer. They'd been using "master" as their primary default name for their software branch, and they not only went through and made the default main, they went ahead and wrote a bunch of tools so that it made it easy for those of us who had repositories there to click a button and have it switch over and get all of that transparently. So people knew it was coming and we knew whether to try to do it manually now or wait and so forth.
[00:17:57.970] - Karsten Wade
So it definitely brought everybody up.
[00:18:00.570] - Karsten Wade
The question I wanted to ask that came out of what Steve was asking that was what... I think he said the phrase "highly offensive to some." I think that's what my thesis around simplified language versus the other block first, is that, when we put simplified language first, it focuses more on trying to create understanding and then second, and then says "and some people will find this offensive."
[00:18:26.550] - Karsten Wade
I think that the term "master and slave" should be found highly offensive by everybody and it should be something... And it's okay if it takes us a generation to really come around on that thinking, but that was really what ultimately got me to want to put the people first on the language, was because of that aspect of it.
[00:18:45.690] - Karsten Wade
It was realizing that this should be a problem to everybody who's receiving it and not let people off the hook easy with, well, just go ahead and use the simplified. I'll just do this, I'll let you all get away with it, and just use a simplified term and not own up to the fact that they're clinging on to a terrible thing.
[00:19:02.530] - Lucía Dura
Well, I think what you're saying has a lot to do with... There are assumptions behind changing terms and making them more inclusive. Some of those assumptions are attached to believing that systemic or structural oppression is a thing. That it exists.
[00:19:23.680] - Lucía Dura
If we don't believe that, it's harder to rationalize inclusive terms because it's like we don't need to change, the individuals need to change. So what needs to change and if the corporation or the organization finds itself complicit or as part of a systemic structure that could be oppressive, then it is in its best interest to review its practices.
[00:19:55.550] - Lucía Dura
I think it's overwhelming right now because you mentioned terminology being phased out. We're going to choose these two terms, but I think people... I read a New York Times article, I think I shared the link with you all about inclusive language, it came out November 1st. Some people feel overwhelmed, I think, by the sheer number of things that they have to change in their vocabulary and then they feel very confused.
[00:20:24.520] - Lucía Dura
I'm sure that some people would say "It's your turn to be confused. Not my problem." But it's happening—maybe I'm wrong—but it's happening at a higher frequency than it has in the past. I remember one of the first words that I had to change in my vocabulary was "blackboard", and now we have an app named Blackboard. So we had to change from calling the actual physical chalkboard from "blackboard" to "chalkboard."
[00:20:57.160] - Lucía Dura
Now we have this learning management system called Blackboard. I don't know how that happened, but it was one word, and one word at a time gives you a chance to ease into it. People are overwhelmed by a lot of words at a time.
[00:21:19.500] - Janice Summers
It's great if you can get someone to drink from a firehose and change a lot of things all at once, but sometimes you have to go in a more subtle approach and change a few things. Sometimes just by changing those few things, they start to open up to "Maybe there are some other things, I don't know." What have you run into when you try to change people's language to use more inclusive words?
[00:21:51.050] - Steven Jong
I think there are three... You can divide people into three camps when you're trying to get them to change language. I will speak from personal experience. The majority of people, if you say this term is actually offensive, will say, "Oh, I didn't know that. I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by it," and change. I think that's the majority of people, certainly, the majority that I've encountered. So there's that foxhole, defending the existing language.
[00:22:25.410] - Steven Jong
There is another foxhole farther back where people will argue the point, and it's an easy foxhole to be in. I must say, the four of us got together two weeks ago, and I found myself arguing from that second foxhole, I said, "What am I doing afterwards where you can look at the etymology of a word?"
[00:22:44.190] - Steven Jong
I'll say "blackboard." I'll play dumb. I have not heard that term being changed before, and I say, "Well, it's a blackboard because it's black, and it's the right term. No one could take offense to that." And that's a mistake because you shouldn't judge what other people are offended by, and it doesn't really matter to me with what we call it, but that's where that term comes from.
[00:23:07.880] - Steven Jong
So that's the software engineer saying "This is the right word. This is where it comes from. It's not offensive in its origin so you should not be offended by it." It's not really a place that you want to be.
[00:23:21.850] - Steven Jong
Unfortunately, and I will say it out loud, there is a small, very small foxhole, the last foxhole, which is people who use the word because they know it's offensive. They like that, and I could name names.
[00:23:38.350] - Karsten Wade
They reveal themselves.
[00:23:39.230] - Steven Jong
You don't want to be that guy. You don't want to be in that foxhole.
[00:23:41.850] - Janice Summers
You don't want to be that person, right?
[00:23:43.530] - Steven Jong
Oh, you don't.
[00:23:44.590] - Janice Summers
Well, it's funny, when Lucía mentioned "blackboard," I never really thought about it. And this is the thing, I'm like—I never really thought about that. I listened to Larry give a great presentation about creating a dictionary of words that are used, and he was bringing up a phrase I'm like, "I never really thought about that."
[00:24:07.520] - Janice Summers
And the blackboard I would never really think about, but it really is a chalkboard. That really is a more accurate description because blackboards aren't always black, sometimes they're blue. Or green, yeah. They're all chalkboards.
[00:24:23.750] - Lucía Dura
I honestly don't know the reason for changing. I just remember being told we're not going to call this this, and I was like, "Okay, that's fine." It is a chalkboard, like your reaction. I think the one that I've encountered the most resistance to recently, not personally, but in work or in social context is "they" pronoun.
[00:24:55.010] - Lucía Dura
So people will say, no, that is not a gender.
[00:25:05.130] - Karsten Wade
They don't argue from the position of "That's not proper grammar and that's not how I was taught" and that kind of thing—
[00:25:10.830] - Lucía Dura
It starts that way, but maybe in Steven's notion of foxholes, they start backing into foxholes where we end up in "this is not a gender."
[00:25:22.720] - Karsten Wade
You really find that underlying, they are conservative.
[00:25:24.590] - Lucía Dura
Because what I end up doing most of the time is saying, "Well, did you know that 'they' was used before 'he' and 'she'?" So the origin of "they" and then they say, "Oh, well, it's not a gender." Okay. So then we end up there and then we have to have a deeper conversation. Am I going to have that conversation with somebody at the university? Yes. But at a cookout or at a family gathering, it depends.
[00:25:59.230] - Karsten Wade
One of the things that comes up, and I don't know if this comes up in other organizations as much, when you have a global organization, a lot of times it's going to be like a company or somewhere where you've got an ability to at least manage the debate and do some change management and culture processes.
[00:26:15.130] - Karsten Wade
But open-source software is a global thing and you've got people coming from lots of different companies or individuals coming in there. So that's where the cultural "I just don't see why this is a problem" thing comes in and where you really got this "Okay. I need to go back, and"— Let's bring up the 1619 Project [the 1619 Project is a project created by the New York Times to examine the legacy of slavery in America and how it has influenced the country]— let's try to get people and get them from basics because it's not in their culture.
[00:26:36.810] - Karsten Wade
But what is in the culture might be something like oppressive autocratic regimes controlling language for the last 100 years. And so there's a super sensitivity around when you come in saying like you are trying to control language. Then once that clash starts, you're going to end up with people who are going to say things that they shouldn't have said in public or whatever, and that culture can come out just across the software thing. That's one thing we've come across that's a little bit different that might be different than other cases.
[00:27:12.730] - Janice Summers
Well, that's an interesting perspective. Then from that perspective, it would be easier to approach things from simplified language perspective and put simplified language first. Everybody understands that. Then I'm not pushing against the "We have to use inclusive words."
[00:27:30.080] - Karsten Wade
But I feel like we've been using the simplified language argument. In technical communities, we talk about making things translatable and trying to get people to get away from idioms and so forth as well. I know the argument does work, but it also feels to me like it's... one probably doesn't want to let people off the hook. Like to Lucía's point, let them actually say what they're really talking about so you can really have the real conversation.
[00:27:59.910] - Lucía Dura
The way I gauge these, how far should I go is, to what extent can I connect with this person? Because that's what it's about. It goes back to the beginning of this conversation. We're talking about connecting with a person. It reminds me of patient-physician interactions. The physician doesn't have to connect with you. They can just tell you what you have in technical terms and then send you on your way. But there is an element of persuasion so that you can comply with medical treatment, ideally.
[00:28:33.730] - Steven Jong
Strong component. You're right.
[00:28:36.490] - Lucía Dura
So if they connect with you... So some of these people I just am like, if I engage this person, how futile, how exciting, how detrimental to my marriage... I don't know, if a relative is 89 years old, and... to what extent am I winning that argument?
[00:29:06.050] - Steven Jong
To go back to the "they," I can tell you from a long experience that at one time, I think, examples— and I have a particular bugaboo about examples that would be examples where it was all men and it would be "he," "he," "he." A long time ago, what we were told was, "Don't do that. Try to make it plural. If you can pluralize things, then it's "they" but it's "they" plural," and that's grammatically fine and it's not singling out a gender or an individual. I've also seen people alternate in examples between a user "he" and a user "she."
[00:29:46.030] - Steven Jong
"They" actually is the easiest way to do it.
[00:29:49.440] - Janice Summers
It is, isn't it?
[00:29:50.940] - Steven Jong
I'm used to pluralizing things. It does take some work, but it might be a little less work just to use "they."
[00:29:57.970] - Lucía Dura
I think it is—
[00:29:59.660] - Larry Kunz
Beats writing "he" or "she."
[00:30:00.850] - Lucía Dura
Yeah. That was the most cumbersome thing of all was the "he" "she" with a slash.
[00:30:08.720] - Steven Jong
He/She? Tried that too.
[00:30:12.770] - Lucía Dura
And in the end, I tell people... When I do have certain reports, why not call somebody by the name they want to be called? Why is it your burden? Just use the preferred pronoun. I don't know. Maybe that's not a very good argument from their perspective.
[00:30:42.240] - Karsten Wade
But for people to explain why is it they won't... Again, let people back themselves until they're actually revealing what their real point is. That they've got some reason why their word is more important than your emotional experience or anything else.
[00:31:00.970] - Larry Kunz
In terms of technical terms, you talk about resistance. The one I hear and I think I saw a question flash across the chat, people say, "Well, we've always used this." Everyone in our field knows what it means to "kill" a program," to "abort" a task. They won't understand the alternative.
[00:31:22.730] - Larry Kunz
Well, they will understand the alternative because Google's a plain language. They probably have heard it before, know what it means. Just like everyone knows what "main" means. They don't have to say "master". But that's what you hear sometimes and, of course, it's rife throughout our software, we can't change all the code.
[00:31:40.310] - Larry Kunz
Okay. Yeah. Sometimes you can change the code, maybe you can rewrite the error message, maybe you can reuptake the UI screen or maybe for the next version of the product, you can be more sensitive. People will say "We've always done it this way and people won't understand if you don't call it the same thing."
[00:32:03.790] - Lucía Dura
I think there's something interesting to that. I don't know if I was having a conversation about journals, but something came up wherever this conversation was, and I apologize if the interlocutors of that conversation remember this differently.
[00:32:23.020] - Lucía Dura
But we were talking about when offensive language has been used in journal articles in the past, do you go back and create a correction or an amendment, or do you just say, "You know what? This is [inaudible 00:32:48] and this is the way that things got published before." So I don't know, to what extent do we make amends?
[00:33:03.730] - Larry Kunz
Yeah. Do you go back and rewrite the speeches of the great orders of the 19th century? I think you frame it in a historical context.
[00:33:12.020] - Lucía Dura
Make corrections, or just leave it as part of history.
[00:33:15.660] - Larry Kunz
If necessary, footnote: "At the time this was considered the acceptable term" or whatever.
[00:33:22.630] - Karsten Wade
We're educating as we go without...
[00:33:26.680] - Larry Kunz
Rewriting history is a slippery slope. We can rewrite the future, though.
[00:33:35.150] - Janice Summers
We can go forward. We can take the here and now and go forward. I think it's interesting to have like, that footnote.
[00:33:42.970] - Karsten Wade
Maybe that can make all the difference because I guess... Larry brought up one of the words before that I had a really strong reaction to in that moment because... I hesitate to bring it up, at least without a content warning, and we are talking about inclusive language, but just be aware it's the word "abort," and it's not like, "Oh, okay, whatever." But content warning, meaning I'm going to have to resist from swearing as I'm telling this experience.
[00:34:10.030] - Karsten Wade
This inclusive language group was working on words and we were talking about that particular word. And in the course of my experience was I came in thinking, "Well, I want to recognize the context of medical procedure and the software context and make sure that people are aware and not try to politicize it or bring into those dynamics."
[00:34:32.420] - Janice Summers
Then we talked about how people's personal experience might be of just coming across and all these different dynamics. And then somebody just said, "Well, but that's the origin of the word in the context of it. What do you mean?" I had no idea. In the middle of this meeting, I dropped in and I go look it up and the word "abort," literally, the origin word only has ever meant to terminate a person's pregnancy. That's its origin.
[00:34:54.540] - Karsten Wade
So in that meeting, I suddenly realized, what do we have in programming? We have a parent process, and we have a child process, and we abort that process. I just suddenly had this flash and it goes to what— who were those programmers 40 years ago who are writing all of this stuff? Are these men actually just being unintentionally offensive? Or is it a little inside joke that is basically saying "This is the boys club, and it's where this is."
[00:35:24.290] - Karsten Wade
And I decided that that's what that was. There is no way that that threading process... I wasn't there who wrote it? Maybe the person's still alive and they'd say, "No, no, no, that wasn't it at all." But I can't imagine how you could accidentally come up with that combinations of the words to directly reflect that.
[00:35:42.240] - Janice Summers
But then back 40 years ago, we talked different than we talked now. Culturally, we were different. Culturally, our sensitivities were a lot different 40, 50 years ago than they are now. Then a lot of this language, they would use it to try and get you to understand emotionally, viscerally what they're trying to communicate.
[00:36:04.190] - Janice Summers
It might not have been intentional to be exclusive of people, but it was intentional use of the word for the emotive value as well to train and educate. But society— we've evolved, thank goodness. Now we're seeing these words are not sensitive, and they're not necessary. We could be more accurate with our words so they're not required anymore. We said it 50 years ago, it doesn't mean we need to say it now and into the future.
[00:36:36.350] - Steven Jong
And whether you use Larry's argument that it's better to include people or my argument that it's bad to exclude people, either way, you can approach it from either direction. I hear Karsten in particular talking about trying to engage people and get at the root why are they using the word? I guess I tend to shy away from wanting to have this conversation for fear of finding out that perhaps one of my co-workers is using the word because they want to.
[00:37:07.660] - Steven Jong
But you could just side-step it and say for this reason, the reason of inclusivity, and that reason, not wanting to exclude, don't do this. Maybe just agree on that point. I don't want to open up the black box of the person's skull and see if they're genuinely ignorant of it or don't think we should change or don't want to change.
[00:37:30.910] - Janice Summers
And some people like to be obstinate and not change. You're not going to change that in them.
[00:37:37.140] - Karsten Wade
That's an important caveat. Thank you very much for bringing that up, because that's definitely my attitude about it. I definitely don't take that attitude in all instances. I try to be wise in my communication, but I do personally have a willingness to go there.
[00:37:56.330] - Karsten Wade
Basically, it's because the most likely people to have an evolution in their thought talking with me are going to be other white men. In case it's not obvious, or if you're just listening to this, I'm a white man in my early 50s. So people who identify with me and connect with me are more likely to process this stuff better and more likely to go to that genuine thing and then I can hear what's up with it and I have these conversations.
[00:38:21.360] - Karsten Wade
It's not easy, but at least that's something that I can— I definitely don't recommend it to anybody, especially because if you're not in the position of being where the other person is comfortable identifying with you, then now you're a risk because most likely not part of that... Part of an underrepresented group in that situation.
[00:38:46.110] - Steven Jong
I'm not criticizing your approach [inaudible 00:38:49] that conversation. I was just thinking in terms of within a business, within an organization, and why do we make these changes, that's all.
[00:39:00.270] - Karsten Wade
The difference between my personal advice versus my organization, yeah I totally agree.
[00:39:05.250] - Janice Summers
I like Karsten's point, too, that he's talking about, and that's I think one of the nice things about this eclectic group that's come together to talk about this topic is relatability. Sometimes people can relate to somebody else easier than they can relate to you.
[00:39:21.970] - Janice Summers
So I think if we're trying to influence change, we have to let go of the ownership of how they're responding, and perhaps someone else who's saying the same thing. They'll hear differently. My mother, God rest her soul, used to tell the story about how she'd tell us to look both ways before you cross the street. She drilled this into us all the time.
[00:39:44.370] - Janice Summers
Came home from kindergarten. My mom told me this story for years. So it's imprinted in me. And I told her, "Mommy, mommy, guess what I learned?" She said, "What did you learn today?" "I learned that when you get to the sidewalk, you have to stop and look both ways before you cross the street." I didn't hear it from her. I heard it from somebody else. She was upset with it for the rest of her life.
[00:40:09.330] - Janice Summers
But the lesson is that the more we talk about these things and have conversations, then the more people can relate to more people having these conversations and those aha moments, like "blackboard." I don't know what to call the whiteboard that I have. I'm sure there's another one phrase as that one.
[00:40:31.650] - Karsten Wade
And even with people who don't have that culture; maybe the problem is a lack of education because of a cultural background difference, for example. Talking to my friends and colleagues in Western Europe, I'm at a safer place to have that conversation, ask those questions and say, "I really don't get why you're all hung up on this problem. Let's talk about it then." That's going to get it wrought better, right?
[00:40:54.930] - Larry Kunz
And we try to do that, Janice, at the very beginning you mentioned dictionaries or word lists. A lot of companies are updating their style guides, including mine. Don't use this term, use these others, and when we work on this in the inclusive naming initiative we stress the rationale. Here's an alternative... Usually, here are more than one alternatives. The one that fits your context, and then the rationale, here's why we're telling you that this is sensitive. So we're just not a bunch of people hitting you over the head with a style guide. There's a reason for this, and it's been well thought through and we'd like to tell you what that reason is.
[00:41:36.770] - Steven Jong
I think that's great. That hits all of the foxholes. I don't know what else to say, here is an alternative. I don't know why this is a big deal. This is why. That's great.
[00:41:49.530] - Larry Kunz
Maybe the last foxhole is still going to be dug in.
[00:41:53.370] - Steven Jong
You're not going to be able to change them.
[00:41:54.950] - Larry Kunz
But at least we'll change everybody else.
[00:41:56.820] - Steven Jong
Yes, that's a great majority of them.
[00:41:59.120] - Janice Summers
Yeah, it's up to them to change themselves, and sometimes you have to just conform to the style guide.
[00:42:06.510] - Karsten Wade
Part of about the inclusive naming initiative thing, too, is it's a bunch of different corporations coming together for different companies and projects to work on this, and it's being done in an open and transparent manner so that you'll be able to even see that people from the different companies are... Their fingerprints, their commit from the git log [a snapshot of changes in a program project] and so forth that you can actually check. So it creates that it's not just me, it's not just my team, it's not just my company, it's... the industry is shifting.
[00:42:32.250] - Janice Summers
Collaboration and open source. Do we have a link to that we can share with you all?
[00:42:38.370] - Karsten Wade
It's inclusivenaming.org, I think.
[00:42:41.130] - Janice Summers
We'll put it in the show notes, too, so everybody can access it.
[00:42:48.510] - Karsten Wade
That one's particularly focused on the technical communication aspects of things and not necessarily in like the marketing or sales or other aspects of things, but around docs, pubs, and—
[00:43:03.030] - Larry Kunz
And user interfaces, Karsten. I think that's one of the strengths of the organization. I think it's both software programmers and technical writers.
[00:43:09.150] - Steven Jong
I wanted to deliver a little bit of mea culpa here. I was going to say, and then I saw someone mention in the chat that I'm bringing in war terms like "foxhole." That's an example of it. I would amend it to suggest that we don't have to think of it as an adversarial or fighting relationship. We can really be change agents because we can change documents much more easily than engineers can change code.
[00:43:36.020] - Steven Jong
But we can be in the forefront of these changes by pointing out, as Larry has said, this is an alternative. This is why what we're doing can be problematic. Here is an alternative. Why don't we use that? This is best practice. This is what open-source community wants to do. This is what many companies want to do. It doesn't have to be adversarial.
[00:43:59.010] - Karsten Wade
And fixing things is just as easy as what Steven just demonstrated. You say, "Oh, you know what? Let's use a different term than 'foxhole' because that is a militaristic term," and just move on.
[00:44:10.410] - Janice Summers
Well, but if you're writing for the defense industry and you're talking with a lot of ex-military people that are tech writers now, they would understand it. So sometimes the audiences, the foxholes, they get it.
[00:44:24.870] - Steven Jong
I'd love to take that excuse but I won't.
[00:44:29.310] - Lucía Dura
Even though I've been teaching English and have a pretty good command of it, I didn't know what "foxhole" was until you said it right now. When I imagined somebody backing up into a foxhole, I just imagined their little shelter, like a little thing in the ground.
[00:44:50.530] - Janice Summers
It is a little shelter. It probably goes back to the time where they did hunting, where the origin of the word "guy" came from. It's an old English hunting term, and "guy" was an insult, actually, it was not a very good thing. My grandmother for years would get upset if I ever use the word "guy," "you guys." It went back to the English hunting, and that's what the foxes would do. They'd hide in a hole to get away from the hounds.
[00:45:21.820] - Steven Jong
But it's an example of somebody who genuinely did not even understand the analogy that I was making. So it's not a perfect analogy if it left someone behind.
[00:45:35.230] - Lucía Dura
I live in a border community right in El Paso, Texas. So those things happen all the time.
[00:45:45.250] - Janice Summers
Which is another good representation of why we change our language to be more inclusive because somebody's going to nod and act as if they know what you're saying, but they don't.
[00:45:56.120] - Lucía Dura
They might even use the term like I did.
[00:46:01.990] - Karsten Wade
Where people use the term and continue it on, so sometimes we have a term that might be a few generations old where the meaning has been lost a little bit in the past. I think of "grandfather" as one of those where it's been over 100 years since that term was in use and where its origin comes from, but I'd never come across what that meant until I came across it and it was one of those.
[00:46:26.530] - Janice Summers
[00:46:27.680] - Larry Kunz
[00:46:29.060] - Karsten Wade
"Grandfathered in." it's Jim Crow practice, I believe, that you had to pass the literacy test to be able to vote. The problem was that a lot of white men weren't literate, but if your grandfather had been allowed to vote before or whatever, then you got "grandfathered in" instead of having to pass the literacy test. It's a really difficult history when you get into it.
[00:47:00.830] - Steven Jong
I only learned that a few years ago. Yes.
[00:47:08.510] - Janice Summers
It's interesting how phrases can hide in our everyday conversation.
[00:47:16.340] - Lucía Dura
One thing I think has been a very simple change for me, but meaningful is in citations. I used to say, "see to" such and such and such and such. Now I say "refer to" blah, blah, blah, because it's more inclusive. And yes, there are people who don't use their vision to read what you're writing.
[00:47:43.830] - Steven Jong
A recent previous employer was beginning to make that change from "see" or "refer to." The other person told me that I said, "Really? Oh, is that because..." Yeah, that's why. Okay. And it's genuinely— I personally don't care at all, I just have to remember to do it. Then I came to my current employer and I said, "Do we say 'see' or 'referred to'?" And they said, "Oh, we say 'see'." Okay.
[00:48:11.470] - Karsten Wade
Again, "referred to" is the accurate word, really, and "see" you have to learn what it means. And there's something that I wonder about where even the offensiveness is right there in its name. Just for phrases, the one that always gets under my skin, shall we say, is the "Drink the Kool-Aid" analogy.
[00:48:37.330] - Karsten Wade
We have people who are... A member of Congress who was there. There's a lot of stuff in that thing. It's not like ancient history. But I also think that what might be going on there is that people are doing a thing of conflating the Electric Kool-Aid Acid [LSD] Test, which was a Bay Area thing from the '60s, with the Kool-Aid.
[00:48:55.430] - Karsten Wade
This and the idea that the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test was like dropping acid and following the Grateful Dead around. That's the connotation people use the phrase "Drinking the Kool-Aid" in because there is no other connotation for drinking Kool-Aid other than committing mass suicide for a cult.
[00:49:12.490] - Karsten Wade
It's very strange, so I've been thinking about it, and I think that's actually what it is. It's a conflation of the terms and probably came out of the Silicon Valley, which is right around the block from where the Kool-Aid Acid Test actually happened. It was basically a way of saying "Those hippies, just going along with that whatever thing because they drank the Kool-Aid," or something.
[00:49:35.050] - Janice Summers
That's so funny because when you say "they drank the Kool-Aid," I never think of the acid test. I never think of that. I think of a different, very negative, very scary situation where people drank Kool-Aid. So I don't even think about that.
[00:49:50.090] - Larry Kunz
People younger than 40 who are listening would have to go Google it.
[00:49:55.980] - Karsten Wade
That's why my replacement is something like, "Drop the acid and follow the band" or something instead of... you know, if they go look up a term, at least, they won't walk away from that term being shocked and sickened at the end of it.
[00:50:09.190] - Lucía Dura
That's why, though, I always feel like Cousin Balki. I am over 40 and I still have to look that up more from a cultural perspective, because I would have to kind of understand that. That's why I put my foot in my mouth the most as a person from a different country who is an immigrant here and happily planted. But I'm the Cousin Balki. I always say things... And Cousin Balki I did watch. Perfect Strangers [TV show].
[00:50:51.470] - Steven Jong
I hate to say it, but that was after my time. I know what you mean.
[00:50:54.400] - Larry Kunz
Past mine too. I don't know what that is.
[00:50:57.770] - Lucía Dura
He was from an unknown country, and he would always misuse idioms and those colloquial phrases.
[00:51:08.050] - Karsten Wade
Or sometimes non-appropriate phases, and—
[00:51:09.330] - Lucía Dura
Yes, to like a terrible detriment.
[00:51:12.870] - Steven Jong
I don't think this comes up much in technical writing, except when you are trying to make an analogy. This is like that. That you might be tempted to reach for something and these things might come in, but they are very culture-specific and very age-specific and we get locked into our personal vocabulary and toolkit of analogies and times pass us all by.
[00:51:38.200] - Steven Jong
Three quick examples of things that really have happened to me personally. I've been using the show business expression "break a leg" before people do presentations. I thought everybody knew what that meant, no longer so much. I've had people start to look at me funny and say, "Why would you want me to break my leg?" "I didn't mean it that way."
[00:52:00.040] - Janice Summers
It seems rather cruel.
[00:52:01.830] - Steven Jong
Yeah, I once used the word "big-wig" in a meeting. You know, "What do the big-wigs want?" Somebody just started laughing and laughing and laughing. I've never heard that word before. "Big-wig." He was laughing for minutes. He happened to have grown up, I want to say in Ghana, but he just had never heard the term and whose fault is that? I shouldn't have used the term.
[00:52:30.270] - Steven Jong
And recently I read—it didn't happen to me, but I read about somebody who replied to an email and wanted to say "note carefully, be very cognizant of." So he put in NB. Now I know what that means. It's an abbreviation for "nota bene," [translates to "pay attention"] which is a Latin term which we're told not to use because people don't understand it.
[00:52:51.820] - Steven Jong
Well, he found himself in front of HR [Human Resources] because the recipient of the email—and I'll have to be indelicate here—the recipient of the email was highly offended that he would look at his email and say "No bullshit." He had to explain "NB" does not mean that, it means... He found himself in that segment. Just don't use the term. But it just passed us by. Not only is it not known, it can mean whatever else they might think it means.
[00:53:25.950] - Larry Kunz
Well, that's a good lead-in to say we'll never get this perfectly. Our knowledge and understanding of this is always evolving, and we just do the best we can. If you wait for everything to be perfect, you'll never get started.
[00:53:40.540] - Janice Summers
You'll never get there. And that's why you have more conversations about it and just be open and receptive and changing. Stop and think, "Am I using something that only I'm going to get or only a certain segment is going to understand? Or should I reach for something that's common for everyone to understand?"
[00:54:01.930] - Janice Summers
It takes a little bit more work and effort, but I think the payoff's worth it if you have more people involved and more people feeling included, more people feeling that they're a part of the conversation.
[00:54:19.390] - Karsten Wade
Yeah. Exactly. Especially when people are part of the conversation, the globally interconnected myth. We have the thing where you can find yourself... "NB" is an example, I've never heard that as a particular acronym but I saw a presentation at All Things Open [an open-source technology conference] recently.
[00:54:42.530] - Karsten Wade
It was about inclusive language, and it was a really good one, I'll link it in the show notes. And I don't want to give away the punchline, but basically, he pulled up a Twitter feed of a particular brand that we all know. The abbreviation of that particular brand happens to match a particular word in the urban dictionary.
[00:54:59.620] - Karsten Wade
And so you could tell from the moment their Twitter feed responded, and then people's response to it like, "Oh, this Twitter feed is for this joke meme, right?" It's like doing a trademark so that you want to make sure you haven't accidentally acronymed yourself into an embarrassing situation without going ahead with it. I think we've got the pause. I won't give away what the example was. I don't want to take away his jokes, it was a good presentation. I will make sure that I follow up with the link into the show notes for this.
[00:55:43.730] - Lucía Dura
That'd be great.
[00:55:46.790] - Karsten Wade
It was during the Inclusion and Diversity Day on Sunday. The title of the talk was LGTM, which is an expression that means "Looks Good To Me" and it comes out of I don't know how many parts of software do that one. And my first thought when I read it was like, why would you give yourself a title like that? So you have to know what that means to read it. Of course, I opened it up and discovered it's to talk about inclusive language.
[00:56:12.290] - Karsten Wade
And in that there was I'll give you this one if you think of it... If you look at LGTM, there may be other definitions of it out there, too. It goes into his experience around that. People can go look it up right there off that definition or I'll get the link to show notes for you.
[00:56:25.380] - Steven Jong
I guess I'll have to look it up.
[00:56:27.160] - Larry Kunz
Sounds good to me, Karsten.
[00:56:28.680] - Karsten Wade
I'll stop and look right now if you want me to.
[00:56:33.810] - Janice Summers
So how does one get started? If they're in a company that doesn't have an inclusive initiative? How does one get started?
[00:56:47.110] - Larry Kunz
Well, we had a relatively easy time, I think, because our company was starting to turn a lot of focus on diversity and inclusion. We have an executive-level sponsor for that initiative, and they're starting some identity groups, I guess, might be the best term. People who consider themselves part of a certain community, and so coming along and saying, "We want to do this inclusive language because of these same concerns."
[00:57:21.170] - Larry Kunz
The big-wigs, the powers that be, were quite receptive. It gave us a nice launch. So I think if you went to perhaps the head of HR or whoever might be involved in that sort of thing, they would be very open.
[00:57:38.510] - Janice Summers
So that's one way, try and position it to Human Resources as part of the bigger inclusive initiative for the company. Any other tips? I know we're a little over time, aren't we?
[00:57:55.050] - Lucía Dura
I think if your company has a style guide that they follow, I would try to find the best way into the conversation possible, if it's going to be through the style guide or through HR... And then start with some small actions, like the Center for Legal Ethics, it's in the way they're writing their cases. It's just about plain language in that you're either avoiding the pronoun to leave it more open so that people can imagine the characters to be whoever and show people what it does.
[00:58:37.970] - Larry Kunz
And do start small. That was a good tip. Solve every problem first time out.
[00:58:46.430] - Karsten Wade
If you can find people to work with too, as diverse as that group can be to start really helps. Then inviting other people in to help and review.
[00:58:57.750] - Steven Jong
There are the three prongs of the argument. You can make more money, you can avoid losing money, or you can avoid alienating people. Businesses are always receptive to one of those arguments.
[00:59:15.490] - Janice Summers
The main thing is to get started on it.
[00:59:18.700] - Steven Jong
[00:59:20.080] - Janice Summers
That's the main thing.
[00:59:20.820] - Karsten Wade
The change we want to see in the world. Yes.
[00:59:22.500] - Janice Summers
And have conversations lots and lots of conversations because as well-intentioned as we can be, sometimes we have faux pas, and we say the wrong thing and we don't realize it until someone else brings it to our attention or until we stop and think about it. Because you don't want to put it on someone else to tell you "You're saying this wrong it's offensive to me," because that puts them on the spot, right?
[00:59:52.570] - Liz Fraley
I always felt like when someone comes to you, they're not trying to make you feel bad. They're trying to help, generally. So being open and receptive to correction can go a long way too.
[01:00:05.410] - Steven Jong
[01:00:06.790] - Janice Summers
Yes. And if we're trying to get buy-in from people who might be a little resistive? Any pointers on that one?
[01:00:16.370] - Steven Jong
It is much more persuasive rather than to say, "I think this could be offensive to some other group that's not represented in the conversation." If it is true, it's much more effective to say "It is offensive to me," and that's very hard to argue with. But it has to be true.
[01:00:39.890] - Lucía Dura
I've also had moments where I dig up research and I show them, these are the alternatives. You could go this route or this route. These are the implications of one route, and these are of the other. There's the history... It's work, but it shows them a little bit of substance of why.
[01:01:02.120] - Larry Kunz
That rationale again. Hey, we've given this some thought and put organization in. Perhaps it's your own company style guide authors, or perhaps it's something bigger than that, like inclusive naming. This is a best practice, and there's a large community that says so.
[01:01:21.470] - Steven Jong
Powerful words. Best practice is a powerful phrase.
[01:01:24.890] - Karsten Wade
And I think also keeping around especially if you've got a business situation where we're focusing on being able to make money and do good in the marketplace, the science is pretty much in on the advantages of being a more diverse business in terms of how much money you make and how much more innovation you can have.
[01:01:45.500] - Karsten Wade
Even just in this conversation, we can see that because we've come from different backgrounds, we've had to work through and explain things to each other and check things. If we just all assumed everybody knew what a foxhole was and moved on and never paused for that, then we miss these opportunities.
[01:02:01.420] - Karsten Wade
So I know that diversity can be treated as a hot-button issue for people, but it feels like it's another one of those red herrings. Because if what they're really doing is trying to be racist, then that's what they're being. The facts belie the arguments, no matter what. Which gets to Lucía's point, there's a body of evidence to counter what your mama told you.
[01:02:27.590] - Lucía Dura
And I think it's good to do the research because not everybody... I'm a Latina, but I'm not representative of every Latinx, or Latino, or Hispanic. There's a lot of nuance. So asking people what they prefer to be called... There's a lot of people here on the border who don't want to be called Latinx, and they don't use that term. So it gets complicated because we have to choose something to write a document or run the business.
[01:03:05.310] - Janice Summers
Yeah, we do. I think that goes to the argument of inclusive language. A little challenging to do, but it creates a simpler, more easy-to-understand language to communicate to a broader audience. It's just about making things simpler, and I think that might be a good argument for some people so that they're not so possessive over some phrases.
[01:03:31.850] - Janice Summers
It's accuracy. A chalkboard is a chalkboard, regardless of the color of the board. It's a chalkboard because you use chalk on it. That's the purpose.
[01:03:42.990] - Lucía Dura
We will continue to grapple with the more complex ones.
[01:03:47.170] - Janice Summers
Yeah, and chip away at them little by little but never give up the fight because we're all on a path of evolution. Generations after us are going to get it better and better and better. But that's what we're here to do, try to make things better.
[01:04:03.070] - Karsten Wade
I always remind people that what we're doing here, as a metaphor, is planting olive orchards, olive groves. Which is to say we're planting trees that we are not going to bear the fruit of in our lifetime but in hopes that the future is a better place for the effort we put in.
[01:04:17.680] - Janice Summers
Yes, and sometimes some of these things that you're doing by putting in inclusive language, the words that you're choosing, you are shaping society, and you're shaping cultures for the future, like Karsten points out. Because those words that we use, the ones that are oppressive, continue to oppress at some level.
[01:04:39.670] - Janice Summers
This has been great, you guys, and I hate to tie up this conversation. We've gone way over time. So Liz will have some edit challenges, but that's okay. I really appreciated this time and I've gotten a lot out of the conversation.
[01:04:57.430] - Larry Kunz
Good working with you.
[01:04:58.600] - Janice Summers
Thank you all so much.
[01:05:02.350] - Steven Jong
I've learned some new words and some things I shouldn't say.
[01:05:06.630] - Janice Summers
Right? That's the thing. Every time I have a conversation, I'm like, "Oh, okay. I can change that."
[01:05:13.870] - Steven Jong
I can, too.
[01:05:17.290] - Lucía Dura
That's the beauty of the unscripted part here, too, is that there's a learning aspect to this conversation.
[01:05:25.610] - Janice Summers
That is very true. That's why we keep it unscripted. Look at all the lessons we learned in this hour together.