Centering Diversity and Inclusion in our Communications: Part 1

Black and White picture of coffee, notebook, and laptop.

Below, Voqal’s Chief Communications Officer, Kristen Perry, explores Voqal’s continual efforts to center its communications in diversity and inclusion.

I am a big fan of words, specifically the written word. An unexpected turn of phrase, a slight innuendo, a good old-fashioned pun – these are all things that bring me joy. I also tend to be conservative in my word choice. Not conservative in the political sense, but rather I’m not an early adopter of new words or new definitions of words. I still haven’t made my peace with literally now meaning figuratively and am not sure I ever will.

Here at Voqal, we use the Associated Press (AP) stylebook as a framework for our communications. The AP, with its global reporters and history of independent journalism, is a common choice when it comes to choosing a style guide. That said, the decision-makers at the AP are not known historically for being early adopters of new words, new definitions, or new usage. It took way too long, even for me, for e-mail to become email for example. In recent years, however, I have noticed more flexibility and a move towards being more responsive to evolutions in language. I welcome those changes. (And remain optimistic that the AP will eventually come around on my beloved Oxford comma – only the most beautiful, wonderful piece of punctuation to behold.)

While the AP is the backbone of the Voqal style guide, we have added numerous additions and changes over time to more accurately reflect the communities we work with and the times we are in. Our practice around race-related terminology is one area where we diverge quite a bit from the AP. It is our custom to use the terms the subjects prefer. So, if a group describes itself as Latinx or BIPOC, for example, we use that language in any communications about that group.

To truly center diversity and inclusion in our communications, however, we have to accept that the idea of a “standard” when it comes to self-identifying terminology doesn’t really exist. High usage of a term does not always mean universal acceptance. BIPOC and Latinx, for example, both have strong detractors. Detractors that come from the communities those words are being used to describe. We’re also in the process of reexamining our use of labels at all. Does it add to the story? If not, to include an unnecessary label seems exclusive by nature.

At Voqal we’ve found that the best course of action is to simply ask the subject what label, if any, they prefer. Simple, right? But allowing all people to self-define, to choose their label, is not as common as it should be. There is power and purpose in people seeing themselves reflected in communications.

As much as I’d like it to be, language is not a constant. Language is constantly in flux and popular terms come and go. Even in the world of style guides, we have to resist the notion that the rules are fixed. We are all best served by making decisions that are focused on diversity and inclusion. Even a rules-following AP devotee like myself can appreciate that.