Diversity-Aware Language and Material

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Using language is using power. Sharing power and empowering participants linguistical implies to reflect the language and materials you use and to apply it in a diversity-aware way. When preparing for a seminar, we should be mindful in choosing our working material: case studies, photographs, examples, literature, films, written or spoken language.


A whole range of literature by and about different oppressed groups should be included whenever possible.


When citing from texts, make a choice whether to use a directly quoted passage or to paraphrase the wording if you feel the language is not diversity-oriented.

Explain the social context

Noninclusive and traditionally taught texts can provide a focus for discussion of discrimination and equity. They should be placed in proper historical context and should be balanced by other texts that show opposing examples.


All materials should be chosen to emphasize equity and to show representatives of different groups in society in “traditional” and “nontraditional” roles. All of them should be evaluated from a diversity perspective: Checklist: Diversity and Language

Beyond Text

Often we use texts but sometimes other types of materials work better – like infographics, pictures or audio materials.

Social Context

Each language has its own rules and every country has a certain way of dealing with genderneutral and diversity-oriented words.[1] Every language can be a powerful tool for indirect discrimination, applying pressure or showing a certain group’s domination. You have to decide on your own how far you want/can go while using gender-neutral and diversity-oriented words in the seminar, but be alert to their power and unconscious interpersonal influence.

Using Language - a Political Decision

The increasing use of gender-neutral or diversityoriented language is not only due to political correctness or simple common decency, but also to a spreading movement of emancipation of oppressed groups in society. Seminar language should avoid biased language and try to achieve a diversity balance instead. For example, in English there is no grammatical gender of nouns so there usually aren’t male- and female-specific words for occupations, roles etc.


But what language do we use when we’re telling a story and do not want to reveal the gender of the characters in it? How can we avoid the personal pronouns “he” and “she” or possessive pronouns such as “his” or “hers”? Do the words “someone” or “one” always refer to a male? A similar challenge comes with all other dimensions of diversity.

  • Does a girl always have to have a boyfriend to be part of a couple?
  • Do we always have to mention skin color or a person’s appearance when they differs from the majority?
  • Does a person’s nationality really matter in a story about them?[2]


  1. For British English see Stephen Fry's documentary series on current language use towards domination, gender etc.
  2. H. Fahrun, E. Skowron, N. Zimmermann (Ed.): Diversity Dynamics: Activating the Potential of Diversity in Trainings; Berlin 2014; MitOst; ISBN 978-3-944012-02-5

Eliza Skowron


Co-founder Working Between Cultures, born in Poland, studies at Jagielloian UniversityKraków (Polen). Facilitator and expert for constructive communication, Anti-Bias, train-the-trainer, author in Competendo.


Also interesting:

Handbook: Diversity


H. Fahrun, E. Skowron,
N. Zimmermann

Diversity Dynamics: Activating the Potential of Diversity in Trainings

A Handbook for Facilitators

ISBN 978-3-944012-02-5
MitOst Editionen 2015: Read