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Inclusive language

Overview

At Manchester, we embrace and celebrate difference and respect. We support each other to create an environment where everyone is able to reach their full potential.

The way we write for and about people can help to promote equality, diversity and inclusion, and provide the same opportunities for all. This guide outlines how to use inclusive language to avoid biases, slang or expressions that exclude certain groups based on age, race, ethnicity, disability, gender or sexual orientation.

Find advice on:

Age

Only include age if it is relevant, for example, with initiatives that are only available for a particular age group(s). This includes the Manchester Access Programme, which is designed for Year 12 students.

Don’t use age as a means to describe an individual or group where it is not relevant, such as ‘mature workforce’ or ‘young and vibrant team’.

We actively avoid ageist terms such as ‘elderly’, ‘OAPs’, ‘pensioners’ or ‘youngsters’, instead using terms that are objective:

  • child (4–12 years)
  • teenager (13–19 years)
  • young people/adults (16–24)
  • adults (19–64)
  • older people/adults
  • over-65s, 75s and so on

Disability

We don’t define a person or group according to their disabilities or conditions. We use language that focuses on their abilities, rather than limitations.

We use terms such as:

  • Disabled person
  • Person with a disability
  • People living with cancer
  • People with diabetes
  • Wheelchair user

When talking about facilities, we say:

  • Accessible toilets

We do not say:

  • Diabetics
  • Wheelchair-bound
  • Handicapped
  • Suffering from cancer
  • Victim of dementia
  • Able-bodied

Mental health

Everyone has mental health and the ways in which we experience it are unique to each of us.

We use person-centred language to reflect this sensitivity and to avoid positive or negative labelling. We do not describe people as mentally ill or defined by a condition.

We do say:

  • Mental health conditions
  • Mental health problems
  • People with anxiety
  • A person with depression
  • A person with a mental health condition

Race and ethnicity

Race and ethnicity are often regarded as the same thing – both are social constructs used to categorise and characterise at an individual and group level.

While there can be overlap between the two terms, it is helpful to understand the difference and how this impacts inclusive language.

‘Race’ is often used to group people on the basis of shared physical traits, particularly skin colour and hair texture, and a shared ancestry or historical experience as a result.

‘Ethnicity’ is more frequently chosen by the individual and linked to cultural expression. The term is used to describe shared cultural or national identity, such as language, nationality, religious expression and other customs.

We only refer to people’s race or ethnicity if it’s relevant to the information we are communicating. In those cases we reccomend using the following:

  • Broad ethnicity: Black, Asian and White (rather than Caucasian), written in upper case
  • Specific ethnicity: Black African, Chinese, Indian , White British, written in upper case
  • ‘Minority ethnic group’, rather than ‘minority group’

BAME is often used as an acronym for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, used to refer to all ethnic groups except White British Group.

The acronym, however, can be problematic:

  • It does not assert to the reader which specific ethnic minorities are included. For example, some BAME references mean all minority ethnic, including White Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller groups, while others include White ethnic minorities in the 'White' category.
  • The use of ‘BAME’ can often offer an assumption that all non-White people exist as a homogenous group without appreciation of the uniqueness of individual ethncities.

Based on these factors, we advise against its use outside of contexts where it’s absolutely necessary – instead, be as specific as possible.

We actively avoid and challenge racial and ethnic slurs and any language that infers or endorses stereotypes based upon racial or ethnic associations.

Sex and gender identity

The language around sex and gender identity is evolving constantly and it is important to understand the difference between them.

'Sex' is biological (male, female or intersex) and relates to genes, internal/external reproductive organs and hormones inherited at birth.

'Gender' can be fixed or fluid and refers to our internal sense of who we are and how we see and describe ourselves.

Binary gender terms (man/woman, girl/boy) have traditional associations with sex, but we now recognise how some people identify with a gender opposite to that assigned to them as a child (trans) and others identify neither as men nor women (non-binary or genderfluid).

We use gender-neutral terms, rather than those that make sex distinction:

  • You or they/their/them, not he/she or him/her
  • People/person or individual(s), rather than man/men or woman/women
  • Everyone/colleagues, rather than ladies and gentlemen/guys
  • Parent or guardian, rather than mother or father
  • Partner, rather than husband or wife
  • Sibling, rather than brother or sister
  • Artificial or synthetic, rather than man-made
  • Humankind, not mankind
  • Workforce, not manpower
  • We provide cover or staff, rather than to ‘man’

Most occupations/roles need not be gender-defined:

  • Chair, not chairman
  • Scientist or lecturer, rather than female scientist or male lecturer
  • Police officer, not policeman/police woman
  • Spokesperson, not spokesman

Where it is not clear what, if any, gendered pronouns or nouns are appropriate for an individual, ask and respect their wishes.

Sexual orientation

When talking about sexuality, we use the term ‘sexual orientation’, not ‘sexual preference’.

We mention sexuality where and when it is relevant to the context. For example, recruitment initiatives designed to increase applications from individuals belonging to sexual or gender minorities, for example lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or any of the other LGBT+ orientations a person may identify with.

Be mindful of the difference between appropriate language for those belonging to a group (in-group) and those who don’t belong (out-group). For example, a person may have reclaimed a once-derogatory term and may now use this term, whereas the same term may offend an individual from outside that community.

If in doubt, ask someone their preferred term and respect their wishes.

Religion

While religions have their origins in certain parts of the world, it would be incorrect to assume people whose ethnicity originates from those countries observe the same religion or any religion. Similarly, a person’s religious belief cannot be assumed by their name.

The extent to which followers of different religions observe or express their faith is personal to them and we do not condone challenging individuals on their faith or lack of.

We only refer to people’s religion if it’s relevant to the information we are communicating. In those cases we use the following:

  • First name, forename or given name, not Christian name
  • Names of religions and religious groups take an upper case
  • Groups of individuals from the same religion should be referred to as a community, such as members of the Muslim community or Jewish people