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Words matter. Right? Write.

March 2, 2022

Through the magic of Teams, Peter Prinsloo, Courtney Fafard, Lori Field and Justin Walsh appear to be sitting together – which is appropriate for a team that is all about inclusion. Most recently, these Long Harbour, NL-based colleagues have been working on a D&I Glossary of terms that contrast outdated language against more welcoming, inclusive language choices. Absent from the Teams screenshot: Stacey Roy. Image: Vale Archive

When you think about it, the language we use, and how we use it, is highly personal. Our word choice can reveal things about us like our upbringing, heritage, what part of the country we’re from and our unconscious biases. When spoken aloud or written down, our words enter a very public space. And how our words are received by the outside world can make others feel welcome or ostracized or somewhere in between. 

Take for example: “Let’s have a pow-wow.” Or perhaps “He’s an Indian giver,” “You just Jewed me” or “She’s a cripple.” Everyone has heard these terms, maybe even used them. But over time, we’ve come to learn that they are highly derogatory and offensive, and yet they somehow slipped effortlessly into our everyday language, and stuck. 

You might be thinking “they’re just words, they don’t mean anything.” But words said over and over have a way of influencing our thoughts, and mere words can morph into beliefs. 

Peter Prinsloo, general manager, Long Harbour, said the time to change the way we speak and write is now. “It’s urgent,” he said. “We don’t want to wait too much longer because sometimes we wait for other generations to change language and attitudes, and they don’t, and it continues.” 

Long Harbour and our other operations across Canada and the U.K. are starting to sit up, take notice and affect change. 

“A few months ago, the Diversity Inclusion Advisory Team (DIAT), headed up by Theresa Nyabeze (senior specialist mine engineer in Sudbury, ON), were discussing a key theme: how to take action now with D&I in the workplace. Theresa suggested an inclusive language document.” 

So, Peter and his D&I team at Long Harbour walked the walk: They actioned it. The team, including Justin Walsh and Lori Field, both technicians, as well as Stacey Roy, geologist, and Courtney Fafard, document controller, crowd sourced ideas with a survey that asked respondents: “What are some examples of non-inclusive language that you encounter in the workplace, whether it be a site, a mine or an office?” 

Said Justin, “We got 120 responses and good feedback.” Some responses included: “Still hear the word, ‘guys’ a lot. Do the guys have everything they need?” “Man hours and manway.” “Bodies instead of people.” “That’s retarded.” “That’s gay.” “A 2020 job posting listed as Draftsman.” 

With this information, the team created posters, behaviour shares and now, a Diversity and Inclusion Glossary, which Lori called, “a living document.” The glossary is a collection of words laid out in two columns: “Instead of (outdated language)” and right next to it “Try this (inclusive language).”  Lori said, “It’s a document and anyone can add to it.” 

Justin said: “It’s not about policing people’s language. It’s not meant to offend anyone. It’s about having awareness of the words we use, and progressing and rethinking ‘how it’s always been done.’” For Justin, this hits a personal note. “I was excluded as a younger person. I know what it feels like, and I want to help other people feel more welcome.” 

Peter calls the process “self-realization” and “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.”  He said unconscious bias training will help (unconscious bias training exposes our implicit biases, which we all have, and provides tools to adjust automatic patterns of thinking).  Most leaders have taken unconscious bias training and the plan is to roll it out to employees. “It will help with making a step change, and inclusive language will be easier for everyone to understand.” 

Justin pointed out that we have many active groups that speak to the concept of inclusivity including Women’s + Allies Network, Inclusive State of Mind and the LGBTQ+ + Allies Network and more. Go to Teams and join. Everyone is welcome.

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How can I be more inclusive?

  • Look at authentic ways to include and integrate diverse language within the workplace
  • Educate yourself – Seek appropriate input when uncertain as to whether terminology is offensive 
  • Reference the Diversity and Inclusion Glossary.  It is a tool that can be utilized and built upon by each operational location that offers suggestions to apply inclusive language across the business
  • Have the uncomfortable conversations and welcome change, practise active listening
  • Respect differences – that’s what makes us diverse
  • When in doubt, ask

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