How We’re Bringing Inclusive Language to Our Products

Learn how the Office of Ethical and Humane Use and the Inclusive Product Language Task Force are working to be intentional in the language used in products, content, and code.  

Language matters. It has the power to bring people together, uplift, and empower — or divide, harm, or reinforce stereotypes. Language is deeply connected to culture, history, and identity. We all have a responsibility to ensure the language we use is respectful, inclusive, and free of bias. At Salesforce, we’ve been on a path over the past four years to lead with Inclusive Marketing principles, ensuring our content, communications,  and marketing reflect, respect, and elevate the diverse communities around us. Our next step is to ensure our products’ content and code not only meet emerging best practices in the industry, but also go beyond these standards to truly embody our core value of Equality.

“Ensuring our products use inclusive language is a top priority for us. We are focused on developing a robust and inclusive process centered around diverse voices. This foundation will drive inclusion in our products and in our culture,” said Paula Goldman, Chief Ethical & Humane Use Officer, Salesforce.

Leading with our values

The language that a company uses has an impact — it influences the hundreds,  thousands or millions of users who are interacting with the content or products. In light of society’s calls for greater Racial Equality and Justice, more companies are making efforts to assess the language they use and ensure it is furthering — not hindering — equality. 

At Salesforce, Equality is a core value and we believe that businesses are powerful platforms for change. To ensure an inclusive approach to our products, it is essential that we lead with our values in everything that we do. This includes empowering our engineering and product teams to consider the impact of what they create; to ask questions, inquire, and seek out feedback — including the language that we use.

To start, we partnered with Salesforce’s technology teams to remove the most harmful language from our content and code. This includes terms that have long been used in the developer community like whitelist and blacklist, which clearly do not align with our Equality values. Other companies, like Twitter and Github, have also made similar changes. We also knew, though, that we had to think more broadly and bring a wider lens to this work. To do this, we created a sustainable, repeatable, and scalable process, so we can rectify non inclusive language retroactively, but also on a go-forward basis.

“Our first step is to make sure our code is inclusive of all,” shares Sue Warnke, Senior Director of Content & Communications Experience. “And the work doesn’t end with simply changing terms. We’re building a robust process that will scale as our product grows.”

Putting the process into action

For the terms that may be more ambiguous, Salesforce convened an advisory board of leaders, employees, and Employee Resource Group members from diverse backgrounds to guide decisions. We also solicit input from customers and external stakeholders to ensure we’re hearing all perspectives.

“In order to develop an inclusive product language plan, we needed to listen to and learn from our communities, especially those that have been historically excluded from these conversations,” said Orlando Lugo, Program Manager, Office of Ethical and Humane Use.

To conduct Inclusive Product Language reviews, we leveraged some of our Inclusive Marketing principles to guide us. 

  1. Representation – is the term excluding or discriminating against a community? 
  2. Historical Context – does the term encompass harmful, hurtful or insensitive historical connotations?
  3. Cultural Appropriation – is the term taking a term used by a marginalized community and using it incorrectly or in a way that does not honor the culture?
  4. Stereotyping  – does this term reinforce harmful stereotypes?

Ultimately, this process generates recommendations to leadership, a playbook documenting the decisions and changes to be made, and internal education and enablement on why we’ve made these changes and how to proceed moving forward.

Here’s an example to show this work in action.

The team who manages our internal admin tools asked our Inclusive Product Language team whether they should continue to be called “Black Tab.” 

Historically, Salesforce used different colors for each functional tab – purple for forecasts, blue for accounts, yellow-orange for leads, etc. The internal admin tab was given the color black because, at the time, it wasn’t used by customers. We uncreatively named it “Black Tab” – and the name stuck.

At the team’s invitation, we examined the history, and facilitated a discussion among our colleagues. We concluded that the name “Black Tab” does not appear to have discriminatory or exclusionary connotations. However, since Salesforce no longer uses colored tabs to denote different functionality, there are discrepancies between the name and the actual use of the product. 

Ultimately, the Inclusive Product Language process didn’t mandate the Black Tab team change their name, but the team is using the opportunity and our advice and will rebrand to a more accurate, up to date name. 

Inclusive product language: a path of continuous learning

Inclusive product language can elevate the experiences and voices of people that have been typically marginalized or underrepresented, deepen connections with customers, and even influence positive social change. 

“At the end of the day, we will measure success not by the number of terms we changed or by the number of advisory board meetings held, but by a culture change throughout our teams: when everyone feels responsible for ensuring that the language in our content and code upholds our value of Equality,” said Rob Katz, Senior Director, Office of Ethical and Humane Use.

“We strive to create a safe space not only to adjudicate ambiguous terms but also for colleagues to feel OK with making mistakes. We all have a role to play in the words we choose to use, and we hope that creating an inquiry-driven process will help Salesforce continue to live its values at the most fundamental level,” concluded Katz.

We’re on a continuous journey, and the language we use is part of the story. Salesforce will continue to center our teams and stakeholders in the process of incorporating inclusive language into our product, and creating a culture of safe inquiry that allows us to live our value of Equality every day. 

We understand that we have a broader responsibility to society, and aspire to create technology that not only drives the success of our customers, but also upholds the basic human rights of every individual. Learn more about our journey: Salesforce.com/EthicalandHumaneUse.

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