Being considerate about inclusive language in tech communication

05.05.23 by Zoe Farooq

Being considerate about inclusive language in tech communication

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3 min read

Have you ever been in a meeting or a conversation where someone gave very little thought to using inclusive language, leaving you partly left out and partly unsettled because of that one inconsiderate sentence that then shaped how you perceived the rest of the conversation?

I was just out of university when I started my first job in tech. As excited as anyone would be about their new job, I would go to a lot of meetings, some product-oriented and some technical in nature. It was around this time that I noticed, for the first time, an interesting pattern in written and verbal communication.

It was that, while referring to the software users, we would use the pronoun “he” a lot. I naively thought for some time that the users of the software that my company at the time was building must be all men! I figured out shortly after that it wasn’t the case. I was in Lahore at the time and thought that maybe this pattern was a picture of the culture I was in, but many years later I moved to Berlin, and in my seven years working here, I have continued to notice it quite a bit.

Speaking of the domain I am working in, as per the meetings that I attend, it feels something like this:

  • All of our app users are “he“, all employees working in the stores are “he”, and all customers are  “he”. So basically, we like to use the pronoun “he” a lot.
  • In real life, we tend to use “he” in situations where the user is an unknown person. Based on my observations in the tech industry, it’s become the norm. Someone heard it from someone else, and then they started saying this as well, and on and on.

What can one do?

It’s simple, use “he/she/they”. When writing, it’s much easier to write “he/she/they” however, if it is difficult to say “he/she/they” in a conversation, then keep saying “the user”.

For instance, this sentence:

He opened the app, he logged in, and he started assembling an order,

will become

The user started the app, the user logged in, and the user started assembling an order.

Pro Tip: Some gender-neutral words at your service: ‘person’, ‘user’, ‘worker’, ‘individual’, ‘being’, ‘someone’, ‘human’, ‘folks’, ‘everybody’, ‘people’, ‘humankind’.

One may think, “why does it matter, who cares?”

Imagine you are in a user study consisting of five users – two women, two men, and a non-binary person. Now, while referring to this group right there, would one use the pronoun “he”? I mean, one will mostly use ‘you’ at the time, but you get what I am trying to picture, I hope. 

Now why would this group of people be identified only with one pronoun, “he,” and not “he/she/they” or with another inclusive word, later in the software development process?

A way forward

If you look at the data today in your domain, you might notice that the true picture is quite different. Many of our riders, pickers, and users in general for example, are also women or we have people who don’t identify with any gender, then why put them under a single label?

It’s a matter of giving a chance to create a different mindset. One could start by asking these simple questions:

  • Does something as simple as this have any effects? 
  • Do my listeners feel left out or unsettled because of my use of non-inclusive language? 
  • Will my communication have a better effect and impact if I use inclusive language?

 I would leave you with this food for thought.

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Being considerate about inclusive language in tech communication
Zoe Farooq
Engineering Manager
PyCon DE & PyData Berlin 2023



PyCon DE & PyData Berlin 2023

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