Calling all Procurement and IT Teams: Why Language Matters
The Black Lives Matter movement, and the events happening both in the United States, and around the world reminds us that we need to act. It’s no longer enough to simply not be racist; we all need to drive change.
One way we can do that is through language. Many words and phrases we use daily originate from enslavement, oppression, or the resulting prejudice and bigotry. And while we often use these expressions unconsciously, with no intention to offend, it’s our responsibility as business leaders to do our part in the fight against systemic racism – and that includes cleaning up our language.
We recognize simply changing the words we use isn’t enough. As an industry, we need to make material changes that address structural inequalities, such as offering more opportunities to diverse suppliers, which we’re actively helping JAGGAER customers do through our technology. But ceasing to use offensive language and discussing race openly is an important step in the journey to full equality and diversity.
Terms to Drop Now
Many of the phrases used in procurement and IT have a rather dubious etymology. JAGGAER is committed to eliminating these and other insensitive words from our vocabulary:
- Master-slave: A term describing two or more regulated power supplies connected such that one (the master) controls the others (the slaves). In 2004, the Global Language Monitor declared it the most politically incorrect term of that year! Any use of the word “master,” for example master data management, has both racist and sexist connotations and should be avoided.
- Blacklist and whitelist: These and similar terms reinforce the idea that white is good, black is bad. Likewise, the term black and white issue suggests there is some irreconcilable difference between people of different ethnicities. For these reasons we will no longer use them. It does not require a great deal of imagination to come up with an alternative, such as the “allow list” and the “block list.”
- The nitty-gritty: Often used in contract negotiations to mean “the fine detail,” the term originally referred to the remains at the bottom of a slave trader’s transport ship that were covered in lice and grit.
- Do you hold the whip hand? Another phrase used in negotiations to express you have an overwhelming advantage. Yet, it inevitably conjures up the image of foremen on plantations and forced labor.
- Grandfather clause: A contractual provision in which an old rule continues to apply to some existing situations while a new rule will apply to all future cases. Those exempt from the new rule are said to have been grandfathered in. The origin of the term goes back to the constitutions and Jim Crow laws of the southern states, which prevented poor, illiterate African-American former slaves and their descendants from voting, but didn’t deny poor, illiterate whites the right to vote. The latter could claim the right if their ancestors (grandfathers) had the right before the Civil War.
While the wounds of the Civil War and its aftermath run deep in America, ethnic slurs are a global issue. The white man’s burden and playing the white man are not terms you hear often these days, but they did gain currency in British business around the world, implying that it was Europeans’ mission to civilize the lands they colonized – when the reality was often exploitation (however “well-intentioned”) based on a racialist view of the world.
We should, of course, also call out other forms of stereotyping in our language including antisemitic canards and islamophobia. The stereotyping of people is not just something that happens. It has its origins in historical wrongs and misconceptions, which are then reinforced over time by the repetitive use of warped language and enduring cultural biases.
Our Pledge, and a Call to Join Us
At JAGGAER, we want to contribute in a meaningful way to reversing this trend. We know that using these terms is wrong. We’re completely overhauling our platform, help desks, training programs and materials, sales collateral, documentation and policies, communications, and more, to remove insensitive language of all kinds.
Making these types of changes is a significant undertaking, but it’s well worth the time and effort. The words we use have a real impact – and we want ours to foster inclusivity, relationships, and unity.
We have likely used some of these terms in the past, and for that, we’re sorry. We understand we’re not perfect, but we are listening, learning, and growing so we get it right. If you see us do or say something that goes against this commitment, please call it out. The only way we’re going to make progress is to work together and learn from each other.
To that end, affecting tangible change becomes much easier when the entire industry is united in the mission. We highly encourage you to pledge with us. We’ll openly share our process and what we’ve learned and would love to hear your perspective.
For more information or to join us in this pledge, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org