Skip to main content

Words create worlds

Group of programmers in a meeting.

Language is so much more than a series of labels for things. Words have the power to trigger emotions, imagination, and action and to influence the way we think. Researchers who strongly believe in this, say that language has the power to fix our thoughts and even to determine how we categorize the world. The more moderate believers say that our use of language can influence our thoughts and decisions. Whichever way, the words and the language we employ greatly influences how we think and make others feel.

Using inclusive language is one way to dissolve polarizing views and align the impact of words with intentions. When you choose to be inclusive for one diverse group, you will likely be inclusive of many other groups too.

Introducing and practicing inclusive language

Over the last few years, Nokia has worked on introducing inclusive language in its programming and at the workplace with the sponsorship of Nokia’s Global Leadership Team. Nokia is accompanied by many tech companies that have taken actions to deprecate exclusionary terms. We recognize that we are still in the early stages, but we think it’s a journey worth being proud of and sharing to help other companies follow suit.

Here are some of the considerations and steps we are taking in changing the programming language we use. In lieu of ethnical disparity, term pairs commonly used in programming throughout the industry, like "whitelist – blacklist" and "master – slave", come to carry the weight of systemic issues deeply rooted in society more today than ever before. For ethnically diverse groups, these terms echo a biased dichotomy of “white is good, black is bad”. Likewise, the "master and slave" word pair alludes to the historical oppression of enslaved people and engenders discomfort.

We can also examine the semantics alone and find the rationale of such term pairs less plausible. When it comes to technical language, one can dispute the logic of using metaphorical labels such as "whitelist – blacklist" and "master – slave” when alternative labels such as "allow list – deny list" and "main – replica" describe the same elements more directly and clearly. The measures taken to replace non-inclusive terms and the results are monitored by the Nokia Customer Documentation Steering Group.

Inclusive language reflected in Nokia’s voice

The Nokia brand has taken inclusive language to heart. The Nokia brand has a unique, distinctive voice when we communicate with our employees, customers, investors, suppliers, and partners. Nokia’s personality is expressed through a language that we characterize as inclusive, empathetic, and trustworthy. In addition, the recently renewed Nokia brand ensures that both our visual identity and the written communication reflect our ambition to provide a safe and inclusive environment. 

Nokia is also committed to the use of inclusive pronouns. We use they, their, or them as singular third-person pronouns. We should not use him/her or he/she by default as we should not make assumptions about an individual’s pronouns. Making one’s pronouns visible in email signatures, meetings, and business cards is highly recommended. The use of the right pronoun is just as important as learning to pronounce a person’s name correctly. It conveys acceptance and respect.

The inclusive language training targets all people at Nokia and highlights how easily people at the workplace create in-and-out-groups – while language can strengthen the identity of an in-group it can inadvertently exclude others. This training introduces terminology and new ways of thinking about the language we use day to day, and how language can be leveraged to express appreciation and belonging.

Nokia has also taken an active role in working to influence standards bodies such as IEEE and 3GPP to ensure that terminology across the industry is inclusive and aligned.

Check out Nokia’s People and Planet 2022 report to learn more about our Inclusion and Diversity ambition and achievements.  


Elizabeth Wang

About Elizabeth Wang

Elizbeth Wang is a communications professional  with more than 15 years' of experience as a Technical Communication Manager at Nokia. She carries with her an extensive background in Electrical Engineering and Software Engineering. Pairing her craze for technology and enthusiasm for writing, she crafts human-centric content that aims to be engaging and relevant to a vast array of audiences. Elizabeth has received numerous recognitions for her achievements as a Technical Writer and as a corporate storyteller. She champions diversity and inclusion and has a deep-seated passion for building high-performing teams.

Connect with Elizabeth on Linkedin

Bernd Schenitzki

About Bernd Schenitzki

Based in Nuremberg, Germany, Bernd serves as the Global Head of Learning and Development for Early Careers and is a member of the Extended Leadership team of Talent Attraction and Mobility. With extensive experience across various domains such as learning and development, operations, and professional services, Bernd brings a wealth of knowledge to his role.

He is a results-driven leader with a keen customer focus and a knack for analytical problem-solving. His strategic business perspective enables him to make informed decisions that benefit the organization as a whole. He is deeply committed to employee well-being, diversity and inclusion, teamwork, and individual development.

In short, Bernd is a passionate leader who seeks to empower individuals and enhance their performance through meaningful learning experiences. 

Connect with Bernd on Linkedin

Article tags