A campaign launched this week by Diversity Council Australia (DCA) is designed to crack down on sexist and other offensive words being used in the workplace.
Chair of the DCA, David Morrison, said research over many years showed how language cuts people out or cuts them down, and “yet it still happens”.
“Exclusive language, gender-based language or inappropriate language has as much a deleterious or disadvantaged effect as something where you’re saying something blatantly inappropriate to another human being,” former Army chief Morrison told ABC News Breakfast.
He said the campaign was simply saying look, it’s a proven fact that more inclusive (and) more diverse workforces create real diversity of thinking and are more productive, more effective.
“And one of the ways that you can engender that type of environment is being careful about how you speak to other people, talking to them with respect and listening to their views with respect.”
In a video released on Tuesday, General Morrison sheds light on how seemingly innocuous words could be harmful to employees.
The campaign also promotes gender equality, calls for the word “gay” not to be used in a negative fashion, and strongly discourages the use of other offensive terms.
The two-minute video shows how a group of women take offence at being called “girls” by a male co-worker, and how implying only mums do dishes can be considered sexist.
It also takes aim at derogatory terms, such as calling an unpopular idea “so gay,” or labelling people “Abo,” “retard,” “fag,” “dyke,” “poofter” and “ball-breaker”.
General Morrison also said he was now trying to stop using the word “guys” when speaking to groups of people.
“I have now removed that from my lexicon as best I can, I think it’s important.”
General Morrison said he was not trying to become the “language police” by supporting the new campaign, but expected to be criticised.
And he has been.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop cautioned against interfering with freedom of speech, saying words such as “guys” were generic enough they should not cause offence.
“I don’t think we should try and interfere with the freedom of speech in this country to a point where people are too concerned about day-to-day conversations,” she said.
Australian National University language expert Catherine Travis agreed, saying she supported the campaign to rid stigmatised words from workplaces but believed its aim to eliminate the term “guys” was trivial.
Dr Travis said the phrase “you guys” had evolved to include all genders and was commonly accepted.
General Morrison, who served as Chief of Army from 2011 until 2015, was named Australian of the Year for 2016. He was hailed for his speech against misogyny in 2013, in which he described the behaviour of the men involved in the Skype sex scandal as “demeaning and repugnant.”