Culturally Inclusive Communication in the Workplace

What is Culturally Inclusive Communication? Culturally Inclusive Communication allows us to use one element of the workplace environment, communication, to create a culture of inclusion. This means that we are using communication – a way of exchanging information – in a way that allows everyone, no matter their background, to feel they belong. 

Being a culturally inclusive communicator means being flexible, seeing how others are responding, and making adjustments. Remember, our goal is to create a space where everyone feels they belong, so the guidelines below might not always be appropriate.

Why do we need culturally inclusive communication in the workplace? It’s the right thing to do. The golden rule – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matt. 7:12) – is found across cultures. In Islam, it is expressed as “No one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” In Taoism it is said that you should “regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain; and regard your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” The golden rule is part of the human compact and it is important in this context because nobody likes being excluded.

The second reason to embrace culturally inclusive communication is that we need it: Racism, colorism, discrimination, and prejudice in the American workplace and education system has resulted in a continued loss of agency for many workers. When people in power appropriate the agency of folks from non-dominant cultural backgrounds, both the workplace and education becomes exclusionary. Exclusionary practices lead to lower performance, including lower revenue, productivity, and problem-solving capabilities.

Finally, cultural differences really exist. We find different orientations to time, hierarchy, and commitment to others along international, regional (i.e., intra-American), religious, ethnic, racial, gender, and sexual-orientation continuums.

How do we communicate in a way that is culturally inclusive in the workplace?

Interested in learning more about these six recommendations? Check out this video.


Support Difference.

We can also support difference by using non-stigmatizing and bias-free language. Some terminology commonly used in the workplace and university settings can stigmatize staff, faculty, or students and reveal underlying bias. Much of this language has its origins in colonialization.

For example, using “pre-history” instead of “pre-contact” or “stakeholders” instead of “rights and title holders” can be offensive to indigenous people (Indigenous Corporate Training, Inc. 2017).  If you need more sample language, think about stakeholders as collaborators or contributors, community members, intended users, or organizational leaders (Robinson 2021). 

It is also important to remember that people are people first. They are not vulnerable or disabled people or groups, instead they are groups that have been disproportionately affects or groups that have been marginalized or people with disabilities (CDC Health Equity Style Guide 2020). Our objective is to maintain humanity in the language we use. You’ll notice that some of the figures in this article violate those rules, using the term “marginalized voices” instead of “voice of groups/people that have been marginalized.”

Promote Participation.

Provide Context. Research shows that context matters. To communicate effectively, we have to contextualize our work in reference to the cultures in which we’re embedded. We have to acknowledge that what we emphasize is a function of culture and our culture isn’t always fair.

If we don’t acknowledge this, we trigger the amygdala, we trigger social and emotional threats and people can’t engage fully.

Use Storytelling.

Center Voices of Groups that have been Marginalized. Note on terminology: there is no agreement on the proper terminology to use to describe those groups that have been historically and are currently excluded from conversations and power. We used the term marginalized here to show that one group has historically had and used power over other groups.