Inclusive Words

Inclusive language

Use these strategies to make sure that the language you use includes everyone.

First, learn about gender neutrality and pronouns. Default to gender neutral terms and pronouns that avoid specifying gender when it doesn’t need to be specified.

  • People of all genders do these jobs: firefighter, police officer, mail carrier. Try using these terms instead of “fireman, policeman, mailman.”
  • Address groups in gender neutral terms. Instead of “ladies and gentlemen,” or “girls” try saying: everyone, folks, honored guests, friends, kiddos, Girl Scouts
  • Pronouns: if you aren’t sure what pronouns to use, you can use the gender neutral “they.” For example: “They are bringing the food for the event”

Secondly, we can keep our shared humanity front and center by using people-first language. There are many ways that people-first language is used.

When it comes to disabilities, describe what a person has and not who a person is.

  • Instead of “The autistic boy”… say: “the boy who has autism”
  • Instead of “She is disabled” or “She suffers from a disability”… say: “She has a disability”

When it comes to aspects of a person’s identity, labels are adjectives and not nouns. 

  • Instead of “A gay/ A transgender”… say: “a gay person/ a transgender person”

By prioritizing people’s identities as humans above any other characteristic they may have, we are showing that we respect and see their humanity.

For examples of how to bring the IDEA concepts into practice, review the examples provided in the gsLearn course, 499 IDEA for Volunteers.


Microaggressions are things we say that have a hurtful impact, even if we don’t intend to harm.  They are comments or questions that seem innocent, but stem from an assumption based on a stereotype or bias.  Microaggressions can apply to any characteristic for which a person is marginalized such as race, ethnicity, ability, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or more.

Avoiding Microaggressions. Before you speak or make a comment on someone’s identity, consider your words. What are you assuming about this person, and what impact does this assumption have on their sense of belonging in a given environment? Although we can all do our best to think before we speak and consider the context behind our words, mistakes do happen. If you believe you’ve said something that could be interpreted as a microaggression, acknowledge your error, apologize, and learn from it!

Addressing Microaggressions There are times when you and your girls may experience or a witness a microaggression. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to responding to microaggressions, and many times it can depend on the context, and how safe you feel in a given situation. If the safety of you and your girls is at stake, it is best to walk away.

If you witness a microaggression, coming from girls or other adults, it is important to respond.  Responding is not meant to be punitive or unkind, but rather provide a learning opportunity and a chance to become a better sister to every Girl Scout.  The most effective way to respond is to take an assertive approach, which we will discuss on the next slide.

An assertive approach is one where you calmly point out the harm or ask a question to promote reflection. This can lead to more fluency in discussing diversity while avoiding blame in the process. The following are some useful assertive responses:

  • “I know that’s not what you meant, but that could also mean…”
  • “What has your experience been that contributes to that idea?”
  • “Your use of the word ____ in that way is insulting to me (or people who are)…”
  • “That’s actually a stereotype.”
  • Model correct language in your response.
  • “Research suggests that…”

If a girl has experienced a microaggression, attending to her needs and safety comes first.  Anger and hurt are normal emotions to feel, and validating those emotions and experiences is the first step in helping her process the incident. The well-being of our girls is our top priority, so avoiding microaggressions and managing them as they occur is key to making sure all Girl Scouts feel safe.

  • Do say phrases like: “I’m sorry that happened,” “How are you feeling?” “How can I help?”  Validate her experience and her feelings.  Though we cannot protect against every microaggression, we can be a safe refuge from them and provide support when they happen.  
  • Don’t say phrases like: “get over it,”  “it wasn’t that bad,” or “they didn’t mean it like that” When we invalidate feelings and experiences, we are sending the message that we aren’t a safe person to talk to and that Girl Scouts isn’t a safe place to be. 

For examples of how to bring the IDEA concepts into practice, review the examples provided in the gsLearn course, 499 IDEA for Volunteers.