Our stance on inclusive language

The words we choose are the building blocks and the glue that hold our diverse teams together. Language not only has the power to build bridges and increase understanding, but also the capability to alienate and dismiss.

At Atlassian, our diverse teams build tools for an equally diverse audience, and we strive to use inclusive language in all we do. We know that, as a society, we are always evolving and the language we use must also evolve. This influences how we build things and how we communicate — both internally and externally. We encourage ourselves to seek first to understand the impact of our words, intentional or unintentional, and we diligently reexamine our word choices as we all learn and grow.

Inclusive language is language that is free from words, phrases, or tones that reflect prejudiced, stereotyped, or discriminatory views of particular people or groups. Even when a remark or action based on a stereotype is not based on a conscious prejudice, it can still be hurtful and cause harm or damage to the person on the receiving end.

When we think about inclusivity, we champion “people-first language”. This means that we keep the individual as the most important part of the sentiment and don’t concentrate on characteristics like gender, sexual orientation, religion, racial group, or ability unless it's relevant to the discussion.

Some of this is new or can be confusing, so if you aren’t sure, ask. Strive to include language that reflects peoples’ choice and style in how they talk about themselves.

This is a checklist/set of questions and then examples.

In using inclusive language, it is useful to keep the following generic questions in mind:

  1. Do you need to refer to personal characteristics such as sex, religion, racial group, disability, or age at all?

  2. Are the references to group characteristics couched in inclusive terms?

  3. Do the references to people reflect the diversity of that audience?

  4. Is your use of jargon and acronyms (J&A’s) excluding people who may not have specialized knowledge of a particular subject?

  5. Inclusive language does not mean cumbersome, dull, or vague language; it simply means language that has been carefully constructed in ways that treat all people with respect and impartiality.

We are a diverse company with individuals from all over the world, delivering software for teams all over the world. Even though we may be a multicultural company, the cultural beliefs, values, and traditions that are centered and dominant in society’s structures and practices can find themselves creeping into our lives. Sometimes we use language that unintentionally excludes or diminishes.

  • Don’t use terms or phrases that have religious origins.

  • Don’t use expressions that ignore the history and achievements of any culture.

  • Avoid using language where the cultural beliefs, values, and traditions are centered on the dominant culture or that perpetuates a ‘them and us’ mentality.

Don't

"Minorities"

Do

"Underrepresented groups"

Reasoning: When referencing as a group of “others” It implies that a group is a lesser part of the whole and gives the power to the “majority”.

Don't

"Sacred cow"

Do

"Off-limits"

Reasoning: Culturally insensitive references to sacred practices, rituals, or beliefs.

Don't

"Spirit animal"

Do

"What animal do you identify with the most?" or "What animal is your kindred spirit?"

Reasoning: Culturally insensitive references to sacred practices, rituals, or beliefs.

Don't

"Christian name"

Do

“First name” or “full name” depending on the situation

Reasoning: It’s exclusive and biased.

Don't

"Citizens"

Do

"The public"

Reasoning: When referencing all people in a country. This excludes people who are living in a country, who are not citizens, such as refugees and visa holders.

  • Avoid emphasis on differences between any groups of people

  • Avoid stereotyping or positive/negative generalizations

  • Avoid promotion of ethnic or racial invisibility

Don't

“flesh-colored” or “neutral”

Do

Using a color name like “beige” or “cream”

Reasoning: When referencing beige or lighter colors. It implies that beige is the only flesh color.

Don't

“Black” or “white”

Do

Use more direct language. For example “allowlist” and “blocklist” instead of “whitelist” and “blacklist”.

Reasoning: When referring to positive or negative or good or bad things. It implies their one is better than the other.

Don't

"It’s not that black and white”

Do

“It’s not that clear”

Reasoning: It reinforces the concept that black and white are opposed and one is good and the other evil.

Don't

"master"

Do

"primary/replica" or "primary/client"

Reasoning: References slavery.

Don't

The term grandfather or grandfathered

Do

“legacy"

Reasoning: The term “grandfather clause” originated in the American South in the 1890s as a way to defy the 15th Amendment and prevent black Americans from voting. It’s also kinda ageist.

Don't

“Call a spade a spade”

Do

"Tell it like it is"

Reasoning: Disparaging of a particular race or ethnicity.

Don't

"Chinese firedrill"

Do

"circus" or "goat rodeo (also potentially insensitive to goats)"

Reasoning: Disparaging of a particular race or ethnicity.

Don't

"Chinese whispers"

Do

"a game of telephone"or “a game of whispers”

Reasoning: Disparaging of a particular race or ethnicity.

Don't

“Gyp”

Do

"Cheat"

Reasoning: Disparaging of a particular race or ethnicity.

Don't

“Circle the wagons”

Do

Get our act together

Reasoning: Insensitive to Native Americans.

Don't

“Hold down the fort”

Do

“Keep the lights on”

Reasoning: Insensitive to Native Americans.

Don't

“Pow-wow”

Do

"huddle", "meet up", or "meeting of the minds" (when used as a noun)

Reasoning: Insensitive to Native Americans.

Don't

"Off the reservation"

Do

"Off the deep end"

Reasoning: Insensitive to Native Americans.

  • Only mention disabilities when it’s relevant. If you’ve designed a feature specifically for people who are blind, great, but avoid just throwing it into your text when it’s not relevant.

  • Focus on the person rather than a disability.

  • Avoid suggesting victimhood.

Don't

"A deaf person"

Do

"A person who is deaf"

Reasoning: Describing an attribute and not the person. Please note that this isn't universal. Some communities embrace different practices. See: https://deafaustralia.org.au/

Don't

“afflicted by” “suffers from”

Do

“has” or ask why you are referencing the condition at all.

Reasoning: Frames the person as a victim and helpless.

Don't

"special"

Do

Just don’t use it.

Reasoning: Term has been used historically to segregate people with disabilities.

Don't

“Crazy”, “OCD”, “ADD”, “Spaz”, “Lame”, “bipolar” as emphasis, or to exaggerate.

Do

Wild, hectic, intense, out of hand

Reasoning: Some of these are derogatory, some refer to specific conditions, either way, they are not terms to be used for ‘effect’.

Don't

"until the fat lady sings"

Do

"it ain't over until it's over" or "it ain't over 'till the credits roll"

Reasoning: Insensitive language, - fat-shaming.

Don't

"handicapped" or "differently-abled"

Do

“People with disabilities”

Reasoning: Term has been used historically to segregate people with disabilities.

Don't

“abnormal”

Do

“typical” or “atypical”

Reasoning: Term has been used historically to segregate people with disabilities.

Don't

"retarded" (as a synonym for "stupid", etc.)

Do

"ridiculous", "laughable", "absurd", "wrong"... too many viable alternatives to list them all!

Reasoning: Term has been used historically to segregate people with disabilities.

This might seem a bit hypocritical for us to talk about when we have a company value of “Don’t F%$& the customer” but we have to consider the impact of our words. This value uses swearing for emphasis, but you’ll rightly see Atlassian's refer to this in conversation with terms like “Don’t F%$& the customer” when they suspect that it might cause offense.

As we are adults and are often talking to other adults, it can be tempting to add jokes or innuendo of a sexual nature, in the name of ‘wink’.

  • Don’t use sexual references. Ever.

  • Avoid profanity.

  • Love and romance are fine but stay out of the bedroom.

Don't

“While impressive, your diff is just too big” - actual Atlassian error message at one point

Do

“The diff is too big” followed by what the user can do about it

Reasoning: Sexual innuendo, and presumptions about the reader.

Don't

"moneyshot"

Do

"punchline", "zinger", or "piece de resistance"

Reasoning: While some terms may not have origins in offensive language, they have been co-opted over the years and it’s best practice to avoid.

Don't

"nut it out"

Do

"power through" or "puzzle it out"

Reasoning: While some terms may not have origins in offensive language, they have been co-opted over the years and it’s best practice to avoid.

Don't

“balls out” or "balls to the wall"

Do

“all out”, “full tilt”, “all in” “110%”

Reasoning: While some terms may not have origins in offensive language, they have been co-opted over the years and it’s best practice to avoid.

Don't

“Bugger”

Do

"sucker" or "bad boy" or "thingy"

Reasoning: It references a sexual act.

  • Use gender neutral language.

  • Reduce unnecessary or irrelevant references to personal characteristics based on gender and male-related terms.

  • Avoid referencing a person’s gender except where it is pertinent to the discussion.

  • Don’t use language that privileges men and renders women invisible or inferior.

Don't

"him" or "her"

Do

"they" (yes: it's acceptable even when referring to one person) Unless the recipient has specified a preference.

Reasoning: Not gender neutral.

Don't

"guys"

Do

"people", "folks", "teammates", "y'all"

Reasoning: Not gender neutral, renders women invisible.

Don't

"*-man" (e.g., chairman)

Do

"chair", "moderator", "firefighter", "police officer", "mail carrier", etc.

Reasoning: Not gender neutral, renders women invisible.

Don't

“mankind”

Do

“people” or “humanity”

Reasoning: Not gender neutral, renders women invisible.

Don't

"ninja" or "rockstar"

Do

advertise job openings with neutral, straightforward titles, such as “Engineer” or “Associate,”

Reasoning: Semi-gendered - studies have shown that (specifically in job descriptions) women are less likely to apply when these types of descriptors are used (also “competitive” or “determined”). Conversely, “cooperative” and “collaborative” tend to attract more women and turn away men.

Don't

“manpower”

Do

"workforce"

Reasoning: Not gender neutral renders women invisible.

Don't

"open the kimono"

Do

"pull back the curtain" or “shed light”

Reasoning: Sexualizes women.

Don't

"girl" or "girls"

Do

"woman" / "women" (when referring to someone 18 or older)

Reasoning: Belittles women, places them in a position of inferiority.

Don't

"until the fat lady sings"

Do

"it ain't over until it's over" or "it ain't over 'till the credits roll"

Reasoning: Insensitive.

  • Avoid language that reinforces the assumption that all personal relationships are heterosexual and denies the reality of same-sex relationships.

  • Avoid stereotyping LGBTIQ people. Placing limitations or expectations on people because they belong to a certain group is damaging, hurtful, and discriminatory.

  • Avoid phrases that disparage or trivialize the diversity of LGBTIQ people.

Don't

“wife/husband” or “girlfriend/boyfriend”

Do

“spouse” or “partner”

Reasoning: Reinforces the assumption that all relationships are heterosexual, and renders same-sex relationships invisible.

Don't

“fag”, “dyke”, “queer”, “poofta” and “tranny”

Do

“gay”, “lesbian”, “bisexual” and “transgender”

Reasoning: These terms are derogatory when used by people outside the LGBTIQ community.

Don't

"gay" as a negative characteristic

Do

Why be negative in the first place?

Reasoning: It’s homophobic.

Ageist language relies on stereotyping individuals based on the perceived characteristics of a group. It de-emphasizes the individual - there is more to each of us than our descriptors.

  • Inclusive language should be sensitive to the entire age range. Terms such as ‘older’ and ‘younger’ are relative and should be used with clarity and in context.

  • Use more neutral terms that aren’t definitive such as “older people”, “youth” or “young people”.

  • Avoid terms that limit and categorize. Instead, choose terms such as older adults, aging population, or mention the person's relative age or relationship to the other people instead.

  • Avoid any stereotyping or connotation that a particular age group is more or less able, or has stereotypical characteristics by virtue of chronological age alone. Avoid using expressions such as ‘a young and vibrant'.

Don't

Seniors, elderly, old-folks, senior citizens

Do

Older adults, older person, aging adult

Reasoning: Terms have connotations.

Don't

“80-years young”

Do

Just use say the age (unless they are uncomfortable with that)

Reasoning: Implies that being young is preferable.

Don't

“Young and vibrant”

Do

"Energetic, lively"

Reasoning: Implies that being young is preferable.

People can make negative and positive assumptions based on where someone lives and their perceived economic status. These assumptions can in turn lead to harmful language based on cultural stereotypes and historic events. Many slang words and idioms can also reference socio-economic status. Remember your own privilege and move away from using classist language.

Inclusive language related to socio-economic status should:

  • Treat all people fairly, regardless of where they’re from or what they do

  • Avoid negative terms based on where someone’s from or what they do

  • Only be mentioned (without judgment) when relevant to a discussion

Don't

Bogan or redneck

Do

Just don’t!

Reasoning: A negative term relating to someone’s perceived socio-economic status.

Don't

Hobo

Do

"Person experiencing poverty"

Reasoning: Makes the experience of homelessness feel like the fault of the person, and defines that person by that single experience.

Don't

"Sold down the river"

Do

"Thrown under the bus"

Reasoning: American slavery reference.

Don't

“Peanut gallery”

Do

"the crowd" or "hecklers" or "naysayers"

Reasoning: A nickname for the cheapest and ostensibly rowdiest seats in the theater, the occupants of which were often known to heckle the performers. In America, this was often a negative reference to lower-socio economic classes.