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Diane, Capital One Executive Vice Present and CIO, stands at her laptop in her remote office

Using Inclusive and Intentional Language at Work

By Diane Lye

Diane is an Executive Vice President and CIO Card Technology at Capital One. She uses her platform as a tech leader to enhance our Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging efforts.

We all say words without much thought—I’m guilty of this, too. There are terms that we use that really have no place in a work environment where we want all associates to feel like they belong. And at Capital One, we’re taking a stand against using these words.

Phrases with more complicated meanings

Words like “grandfathered,” “cakewalk” and “blackball” might seem innocent, but their origins are actually rooted in white supremacist, patriarchal, ableist and gendered sentiments.

I learned that the phrase “grandfather clause” actually referred to provisions adopted by some states after the Civil War in an effort to disenfranchise Black voters.

In today’s use, speakers don’t have original definitions in mind, but it’s important that our words reflect our current values and inclusion efforts. We must keep history and word origin in mind as part of an ongoing effort to examine every aspect of our work and culture to advance fair, equitable and inclusive systems and practices that are free of any potential bias.

Capital One leader Diane stands in a Capital One building and talks to another associate

Changing our language in coding, and beyond

As part of Capital One's focus on inclusive language, Tech is specifically examining our coding phrases. Historically, software code has included words based in white supremacy. We have begun removing terms like “master,” “slave,” “whitelist” and “blacklist” from our code. The true meaning of these words still resonates and upholds systemic racism.

We can’t do this alone. We join others who have announced their intent to replace such terms in their code. In fact, these actions have already been taken in software languages such as Python and the open-source platform, Drupal. Together, we can work to end systemic racism, support marginalized communities and expand access to opportunities.

I encourage all of us to take a closer look at our language and its impact. This is an opportunity to learn and make everyone feel included at Capital One.

Intention to make a change

Trust me, I know it’s hard to change the language we use. I’m working with other Capital One tech leaders, our Tech Business Resource Groups (BRGs) and partners in Human Resources to identify non-inclusive terms and update our vocabulary through easy-to-use tools for our associates. I’m encouraging associates to identify what changes their teams can make to build a more inclusive culture across the company.

I’m proud that teams across our tech organization have already updated their tech terminology to be more inclusive, like saying “gut check” instead of “sanity check.” I’d like to call on others to join us in making these small, but meaningful, changes.

It’ll take work over an extended period of time. We won’t always be perfect, but I’m excited that we are doing this work. I truly believe that small changes can make a big difference. Inclusive language shapes our daily morale,has a direct impact on our mission to change banking for good and illustrates Capital One’s values.

Creating a culture of diversity, inclusion and belonging is inherent to Capital One, and I’m passionate about our efforts to create an inclusive culture. I care about this work because I truly believe we are all better when we recognize the ways we contribute to a sense of belonging. Using inclusive language reflects Capital One Values of excellence and to do the right thing.

We each have a role to play, and examining the language we use is a great place to start. Review the words flagged above and make note when you use them. You’ll be surprised how they creep into our everyday vocabulary. With intention, we can all shift our language to reflect our values. I’m committed to this. I hope you will be too!