UK Finance, EY and Microsoft launch campaign to make language in technology and cybersecurity more inclusive

UK Finance, EY and Microsoft have released a joint report setting out how the financial sector can work together to remove non-inclusive language commonly found within the technology and cybersecurity sectors. The report highlights what changes should be made to the language used in legacy application systems and coding to help drive positive action and remove any language that portrays people in an unnecessarily negative light.

The issues relating to language used in these areas is one that has previously been highlighted by the UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the US National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST).

Through dedicated research, industry insights and discussions with UK Finance members, the report highlights contentious terms that have become synonymous with race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, accessibility and criminality. It explores what impact these terms have on society, the financial services industry and individuals, including how non-inclusive terms have created a barrier to recruitment and left staff isolated.

The report suggests alternatives to replace a number of commonly-used terms. For example, language aligned to race or ethnicity, such as “black market” and “white-list” could be changed to “illegal market” or “allow list” respectively. In addition, terms such as “sanity check” may infer a level of disability bias or discrimination and could be changed to “sense check” or “confidence check”.

With organisations currently at different stages of implementing their approaches to diversity and inclusion (D&I), the report identifies key focus areas regarding language and provides a 12-step guide on what firms can do to help drive sustainable change.

David Postings, Chief Executive of UK Finance, said: “Non-inclusive language can alienate and create an unfair and unequal society. With thanks to our members, EY and Microsoft, we hope that this report offers firms insight into how making changes to language used in technology and cybersecurity will drive positive action to the benefit of wider society.”

Link to Microsoft D&I website

Nina Driscoll, Director at EY, said: “Using inclusive language is vital to cultivating the right sort of behaviours and, ultimately, achieving the best outcomes. We hope this report shows firms across the technology and cybersecurity space just how important it is to use language which makes everyone feel comfortable. Taking a bit of time now to consider the best terminologies to use will be of huge benefit in the future.”

Sarah Armstrong-Smith, Chief Security Advisor of Microsoft, said: “Being mindful of the language we use to foster greater inclusion in technology and cybersecurity is a positive step forward. At Microsoft we believe in the power of engaging diverse perspectives. In partnership with UK Finance and EY, the insights offered through this report will foster a more diverse and thriving financial sector as organisations consider their approaches to D&I and welcome in additional changes of benefit to wider society.”

There are many opportunities to emulate what other organisations have achieved through policy and cultural changes. In addition, leveraging capabilities that are built into technology can empower people to act in their own way. Technology companies, such as Microsoft, have a critical role to play in making it as easy as possible for people to be mindful of inclusive language and accessibility.

Microsoft has taken steps to deliver change in how it codes and builds products, but Microsoft Office has many inclusive features to create content that is welcoming, inclusive and accessible to everyone. One example would be the inclusive language feature in Microsoft Editor, which scans content for biased and offensive terms.

There are also other resources Microsoft makes available to aid people in this space, such as the Microsoft Writing Style Guide. This is a public version of the style guide that is used across the industry and includes information on inclusive language, such as bias-free communication.

The report contains a 12-step guide for financial services organisations who want to drive sustainable change:

Step 1: Review current language used in technology and cyber
Step 2: Identify non-inclusive language
Step 3: Secure technology and cyber leadership support
Step 4: Engage central D&I or HR team
Step 5: Agree a set of alternative words to replace the non-inclusive language
Step 6: Business Leadership sponsor
Step 7: Consider cultural alignment
Step 8 Engage employees to help shape response
Step 9: Approval of alternative words
Step 10: Communication strategy
Step 11: Instigate changes, update policy documents
Step 12: Assign maintenance responsibility