Diversity-sensitive and inclusive communication is important, as it makes it possible to reach a larger target group. But what exactly should you keep in mind? This reflection tool is intended to help in this process. We hope that everyone connected to our university will routinely consider diversity and inclusion an integral aspect of their jobs.

We encourage the use of this tool for preparing policy documents, project proposals, messages about events, promotional materials and other matters. If you are curious about the best words to use when talking about diversity-related topics, our Glossary of Terms on Diversity could be helpful.

We reflect on three types of communication:

  • Written and spoken language
  • Visual and auditory content
  • Events (virtual and in-person)

The tool is based on the ‘Diversity and Inclusivity Checklist’ compiled by YUFE  and further coordinated to the context of the University of Antwerp.

1.    Written and spoken language

Is the language used gender-sensitive?

  • It is important to be aware of the effect of gendered job and role titles. Depending on the text and context, you could choose to use a masculine term (e.g. chairman), a feminine term (e.g. chairwoman), both a masculine and a feminine term (e.g. chairman/chairwoman) or, if one exists, a gender-neutral form (e.g. chairperson or chair). For additional information (in Dutch):
  • Documents translated from English into a local language (or vice versa) should apply the same
    principle where local grammar rules allow and where an appropriate word exists.

Have stereotypes, generalisations, polarisation and dehumanisation been avoided wherever possible?

  • Everyone has prejudices. The art lies in the ability to be aware of these prejudices. Review the text that you have written in light of this awareness.
  • Actively seek out the opinions of a diverse group of people to include a variety of perspectives.

    For example, the question, ‘What is your sex?’ is a clear, logical question for many cisgender people. It can be confusing to transgender people. What should they answer: legal sex, gender identity, biological sex, something else? 
  • Avoid generalisations. Avoid words like ‘always’, ‘everything’, ‘everyone’ and ‘everywhere’, unless you are certain that they are applicable.
  • One of the characteristics of an inclusive environment is the creation of an environment in which everyone feels welcome. Consider how you could contribute to such an environment in your text and statements.
  • Avoid language that creates divisions and gives the impression that there is an opposition between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

    For example, instead of saying, ‘We should also take religious students into account’, it would be better to say, ‘Everyone should take the diversity of philosophical convictions amongst students into account.’

Does the language used avoid acronyms, jargon and metaphors that are unlikely to be understood by the whole intended audience?

  • Spell out an acronym in full the first time you use it. Thereafter, you can use the acronym without writing out the term in full.

For example: during an information session for prospective students: Student Information Point (STIP).

  • Use clear, simple language, and consider your audience. Explain terms that might not be familiar to everyone, particularly the first time you use them.

For example: blended learning, special arrangements, ombudsperson, etc.

Is the language used consistent with the Diversity Glossary?

  • If you are not certain of the best term to use, consult the‘Glossary of Terms on Diversity’. The objective of the glossary is to develop a common understanding within the University of Antwerp of words relating to diversity and inclusion, in addition to promoting the consistency of our communication.

    For example: do not use the word ‘immigrant’, but rather ‘person with a migration background’.

Could the language used potentially be offensive to an individual or group of people?

  • Make sure that no pejorative terms are used and that the language is consistent with that used and accepted by the community or target group itself.

For example: do not use ‘Caucasian’, but ‘white’ to refer to a person with white skin.

For example: the ‘N word’ is perceived as highly offensive by the black community within our university. Please respect this and do not use this word.

  • Ask members of the community in question to share their views on certain terms. If you are not sure whom you should contact within or outside the university, please contact the Diversity Team.

When discussing a specific target group, does the language used refer to the whole person?

  • Do not reduce people to a single trait or characteristic, but regard the trait/characteristic as one of their many characteristics.

For example: use ‘people with disabilities’ instead of ‘disabled people’ or ‘a student with autism’ instead of ‘an autistic student’.

For example: when referring to people, ‘trans’ should be used as an adjective, in order to make it clear that the person is more than just transgender. Say ‘a trans(gender) person’ and not ‘a transgender’.

For example: instead of ‘illegal alien’, say ‘person without legal residence permit’.

Is the language used strength-based (empowering), rather than proceeding from a deficit model?

  • Focus on the abilities, knowledge and capacity of people rather than on generalised deficiencies (known or perceived) of a person or group of people. In doing so, acknowledge transparently the impact of structural inequality mechanisms.

For example: instead of ‘at-risk students achieve poorer examination results in higher education’, say ‘the Flemish education system offers students with specific background characteristics fewer good opportunities for advancement than to students without these characteristics’.

Is the text directed towards both Dutch-speaking and multi-lingual students and staff?

  • Whenever possible, provide all information in both Dutch and English. In addition, try to make information in Dutch and English available at the same time.​

2. Visual and auditory content


Could any images selected imply or reinforce stereotypes, and are they appropriate for the written content they accompany?

  • Try to take intersectionality into account when depicting people based on age, gender identity, skin colour, clothing, tattoos, piercings or other characteristics. Search for intersections whenever possible.
  • Reflect on how these intersections could be interpreted within the framework of the central message.
  • Avoid reinforcing stereotypes when depicting people.

For example: the message is aimed at people with disabilities. Can you find an image of something other than a student in a wheelchair? If you do use an image of someone in a wheelchair, how is that person portrayed? Passive or barely active? Try to portray the person as active, complete and independent.

Do the images selected portray people in a respectful manner?

  • Avoid images that place unnecessary emphasis on a specific aspect of the person’s identity.

For example: if you wish to highlight religion, do not focus only on religious signs, but on the person as a whole.

If you are using PowerPoint slides to accompany a talk, are you confident that all participants will be able to follow the content equally well?

  • Make sure that the slides are readable, also for those in the back of the room.
  • Keep text on slides to a minimum, as those with attention deficiencies may struggle to concentrate enough to read your slides and listen to what you are saying at the same time.
  • Avoid using slide transitions (animations used to transition from one slide to the next), as they can trigger nausea, headaches and dizziness in people with inner ear disorders.
  • Have as large a contrast as possible between the background colour and the text.
  • Use the automatic ‘accessibility checker’ on PowerPoint. Type accessibility into the search bar (or click File > Info > Check for issues). You will then receive feedback on the accessibility of your PowerPoint presentation.

Are you confident that material you are developing for meetings or events or teaching is inclusive for those with visual or hearing impairments?

  • If you are using a video, make sure that it has subtitles. This makes it more accessible to everyone, and particularly to people with hearing impairments. 
  • Is the video understandable for people who cannot see the image well? Is the voice-over/speaker clear enough? If not, you could provide audio description or a text alternative.
  • When using images or videos, check whether it would be possible to describe the image by adding a description. In addition to being interesting for people with visual impairments, this can help you to determine how the image supports the message.

For example: this functionality is built into the University of Antwerp website and Pintra. You should therefore always enter the description of the image or video.

  • For some people flashing, flickering or strobe lighting is problematic; if you need to use this, please add a warning in advance 
  • When providing information for a future event, provide a way for participants to communicate specific accessibility needs.

For example: include the following questions on the registration form, ‘Do you have specific needs or wishes regarding accessibility and assistance? Or do you have other questions, remarks or concerns? Please let us know in advance by emailing the form below. This will help us take these matters into account.’ 

Are any case studies, scenarios or examples you are developing appropriate for a diverse audience?

  • Make sure to include sufficient representation of various cultures, philosophical convictions, genders, relationship forms and other aspects, so that as many people as possible will be able to identify with the examples
  • Make sure that examples do not reinforce stereotypes.
  • Be careful with statements or humour that may not translate across different languages/cultures. Always take the diversity (both visible and invisible) of the audience into account.

For example: a ‘well-intended’ stereotypical joke or comment about LGBTQ+ people could be offensive to LGBTQ+ people and allies, in addition to perpetuating stereotypes. Even if it would not bother anyone, it reflects a non-inclusive mentality.

3. Events (virtual and in-person)

Has sufficient attention been paid to the timing of the event or meeting and possible barriers to particular groups?

  • When organising and determining the timing of events, try to consider possible barriers to participation. Consider the time of day, school holidays and other holidays (e.g. religious holidays).​​​

    For example: if you schedule a meeting from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., you might exclude parents or people with care duties, or at least make it difficult and less natural for them to participate.
    For example: if you are organising a ‘Lunch & Learn’ for lecturers and students, and you definitely wish to reach students with a migration background and students with a variety of religious convictions, you should consult the overview of religious holidays and make sure that the event will not conflict with an important holiday.

Are background characteristics only requested if they are relevant?

  • If you wish to request information on background characteristics (e.g. in the registration form for a lecture), request only those characteristics that are relevant.

For example: age and sex are often requested in questionnaires, but they are not always relevant. If you nevertheless do wish to request this information, you should justify your choice and explain the purposes for which the information will be used.

Is the theme of the event or meeting as inclusive as possible?

  • Consider the extent to which the event or meeting encourages a range of perspectives.
  • Break stereotypes of certain groups by allowing a variety of voices to be heard.

For example: you are organising an event with physics students to make students in secondary school excited about studying physics. You should make sure that the group of students is diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, age or other diversity characteristics to show sufficient representation.

For example: you are organising a lecture on the history of colonialism. You might consider inviting a guest professor who does not describe this history from a West-European perspective or an international guest professor from a country that has been/is currently colonised.

Is the group of speakers for the event sufficiently diverse?

  • Consider the avenues you have used to identify potential contributors. If necessary, broaden your search to try and identify those from marginalised or under-represented groups.

For example: particularly for panel discussions, make sure that there will be sufficient diversity in terms of gender, ethnic background, religious convictions and other characteristics.

  • It is of crucial importance to consider diversity and intersectionality in speakers for events dealing with issues relating to diversity, as well as for events that are not focused on diversity.

Are you confident that the event or meeting is fully accessible?

  • Make sure that participants are given a pre-event opportunity to disclose any access requirements (e.g. an international, Flemish or sign language interpreter, wheelchair access, reserved parking spaces or particular dietary requirements). Provide sufficient budget to ensure that any accessibility needs can be met effectively.

For example: include the following questions on the registration form, ‘Do you have specific needs or wishes regarding accessibility and assistance? Or do you have other questions, remarks or concerns? Please let us know in advance by emailing the form below. This will help us take these matters into account.’

  • Make sure that people of all gender identities will feel welcome.​​​

    For example: normalise the use of pronouns by indicating your pronouns on your own name tag.
  • Allow sufficient space (literally and/or figuratively) to take breaks (e.g. to take medication, to breastfeed or to be in a low stimulus environment for 10 minutes).

Is the format of the event or meeting sufficiently inclusive?

  • Consider event formats that foster collaboration, interaction and reflexive exchange to generate new ideas and insights.

For example: consider organising round-table discussions to promote interaction.

For example: if you would like to generate a lot of participation and interaction, consider ways of involving more introverted people. You could alternate small-group discussions with a poll.

  • When selecting moderators, it would be useful to determine whether they are aware of the existence of various opinions on the topic and whether they are equipped to encourage these varying perspectives and to respond to inappropriate behaviour.

Have you considered how to evaluate your event or meeting in relation to diversity and inclusivity and how to use that information?

  • Provide participants with opportunities to give feedback both during and after the event or meeting.
  • Ask both organisers and participants for their views on how the event or meeting might have been more inclusive.
  • Survey participants about what they will take away from the event.

For example: what lessons or examples of good practice did you learn? How would you share these with others (e.g. co-workers, other faculties and departments)?