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Workplaces are becoming more diverse, make sure you adapt

Greg Devine


Diversity word spelled with wooden letters on colorful background

All around the UK, workplaces are becoming much more diverse places, where individuality is encouraged. For some companies, it may become difficult to adapt or keep up with new terms or individual practices. Commonly used phrases may now be outdated, and it’s therefore important to remove these from your vocabulary.

Religion and race

People of different races and religions will be found in the average workplace, which is something to be celebrated. Nobody deserves to be treated differently because of the colour of their skin or the religion they follow. You may be familiar with the term BAME, which stands for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnics. This is commonly used in workplace documents; you may also see the term whenever there’s training on diversity and inclusion.

However, BAME is actively being discouraged, as it emphasises certain ethnic minority groups over others. Instead, these minorities should be named individually, rather than as a collective group. Whilst this may be confusing, it’s important to understand this difference.

Full length portrait of diverse business team with young woman in wheelchair all smiling at camera in office

Full length portrait of diverse business team with young woman in wheelchair all smiling at camera in office

Gender and pronouns

It’s important to understand the difference between gender and sex. Sex is assigned at birth and refers to the biologic aspects of an individual. This is usually male or female. Gender refers to a social construct based on behaviours and attributes that could be considered masculine or feminine. Gender identity is a personal, internal perception of oneself, and thus, it may not always match the sex the individual was assigned at birth.

There are many different ways in which people prefer to be identified; here’s a list of some of the more common ones. Please be aware, however, that there are more, and how important it is to learn each person’s specific gender identity.

Cisgender – this is used to describe someone whose gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth. The individual may use the pronouns he/him or she/her.

Transgender – if someone identifies with a different gender to the sex they were given at birth, they may consider themselves transgender. However, gender is fluid; somebody may identify as transgender but subsequently move to be identified differently. Just because someone identifies as transgender doesn’t mean they will actively be transitioning to a stereotypical male or female assignment. It’s important to ask an individual which pronouns they prefer others use when referring to them; these may be different to what you expect, and they may also change with time.

Two-spirit – This is common amongst indigenous groups, but the term can be used by anyone. It often means a person who finds themselves with certain aspects of different genders—one who carries qualities of both male and female, or someone who considers themselves to be gender unique. Again, ask individuals which pronouns they wish to be addressed by.

Non-binary – This is more of an umbrella term for people whose identity falls outside what’s considered to be traditional male or female. Its definition is purposely broad and it can mean different things to different people. They/them are common pronouns by people who identify as non-binary, but don’t assume this—people may use they/them and not consider themselves non-binary and visa-versa.

Gender fluid – This may refer to someone whose gender varies over time. They may shift between genders or express multiple genders at one time. This may be random or in response to certain circumstances. Be sure to ask the person’s pronouns.

Gender neutral – This is often used by someone who doesn’t identify as male or female. They/them are commonly used pronouns; again, don’t assume…always ask if unsure.

It’s important to remember pronouns are a personal choice for an individual, and you should therefore have the decency and respect to refer to someone using the correct ones. Should you use the wrong pronouns, simply apologise then continue your conversation whilst using the person’s preferred terms.

The main thing is to keep an open mind and employ a willingness to learn and understand a person’s background and how they wish to be identified. Should you address them incorrectly, learn from the experience. Few people will be offended if you simply ask what their preferences are.

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