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Words Matter

Clearly defined terms can improve communication efforts and increase being heard

By Ashley Feltner

I am a writer and lover of words, so I choose carefully, intentionally, and very thoughtfully. Especially when it comes to “labels” or “descriptors.” As the lead writer on the Glass Ceiling Report 2.0, I found an increased need to choose and use words intentionally to ensure better the message is heard. 

Understanding the psychology behind words that inform versus define can be helpful. Labels can be used as a description; some descriptors are neutral, fact-based, and sometimes transient. For example a woman with long hair or a woman with curly hair. Once descriptions evolve to include emotions, they can become more substantial and start to define.

Take for example some stereotypical defining labels: rude Americans, angry youth, demanding women, or condescending men. While these descriptions may be appropriate in some instances, more often labels obscure the complexity behind a person, hide true intentions, or distort facts. Not all youth are angry, not all women are demanding, not all men are condescending, and not all Americans are rude.

The ability of descriptions to obscure data and distort facts was pronounced while working on the GCR 2.0. As a way to “level set” when reporting on these findings, a list of DEI terms and definitions was included at the beginning of the report, and what we found was interesting. The actual terms used in the DEI space are more divisive than the definitions. The meaning behind the words is often something a majority can agree on, illustrating how emotionally charged a “label” can become. 

By including formal definitions, we are able to clearly communicate, strengthen our message, and provide an understanding of the value proposition. The graphic below lists some of the familiar terms within the DEI space, along with academic definitions. 

For additional insight and information, download the WITI GCR 2.0 final report

The Glass Ceiling Institute powered by WITI has supplementary DEI trends and findings, you can: