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Intentional Communications Policy


We aspire to create an environment where employees are considerate and thoughtful in everything they do, from interacting with teammates and clients to sharing case studies with the world. One way we can all contribute to such an environment is through evaluating the language and images we use in our speech, writing, code, and more, to ensure that the ideas we communicate are truly reflective of our intentions and responsive to their impact.

We expect everyone who works at Skylight, attends Skylight events and meetings, or participates in online forums or other virtual collaboration to use proper conduct and inclusive language in their communications. As a government contractor, many of our communications are public record and can be reviewed at any time. This applies to all of our methods of communication: office chat rooms, commit messages, email, and both formal and informal conversation.

With this in mind, we ask everyone to take the following three steps to support this policy and help create an environment of consideration and thoughtfulness in every interaction:

Understand and replace offensive words and images

Words matter. One way to be more intentional with language is to examine the common words and phrases we use. As a result of colonialism, slavery, and the persistence of structural and systemic racism, it’s inevitable that the origins of many common phrases are unfortunately rooted in those realities. Other phrases derive from the second-class treatment of those who are defined by characteristics that make them different from those who historically held “power” in society: religion, gender, sexual orientation, neurotype, disability, physical appearance, political belief, and others. By learning and reflecting on where words, phrases, linguistic idioms, and visual references came from, we can help create an environment where everyone feels welcome and included.

Skylight team members have created a growing list of words and phrases that replicate historic patterns of exclusion and marginalization.

We expect that you will not only remove offensive words and images from your communication patterns, but that you will also review existing documents, code, and other materials and replace any offensive words or images with suggested alternatives. To learn more about why these words and phrases are included, review the resources tab in the spreadsheet or consider doing your own research. The goal of this policy is to raise awareness for why we need to update our language, not to censor or monitor.

This is a living document, so if you learn that a form of communication is offensive, please add it as a suggestion to the spreadsheet. If you’d like to add suggested replacements, a rationale, and/or resource link too, please do — but don’t feel obligated. The list is never exhaustive or complete, but is meant to serve as a guide to help all of us be more intentional with our words.

Accept when you’ve made a mistake

Using more inclusive language can be hard. We realize that this policy is asking some of you to change deeply embedded communication patterns. Moreover, we know that even if you read every resource and make every replacement listed in the spreadsheet, you might still say or share something that causes offense.

This is where we reaffirm that impact matters more than intent. Typically, when you make a mistake, it’s easy to want to defend your intent. Someone — bravely — shares that they were offended by something you said. You — not having intended to hurt them — insist: “You know that’s not what I meant!” Unfortunately, your intentions didn’t match your impact.

When you make a mistake, we ask that you accept the impact and apologize without trying to defend yourself. Instead, try something like: “I’m so sorry. I didn’t understand/remember the impact of that word/phrase/image. Thank you for sharing that insight with me/reminding me.”

Speak up when you notice exclusionary communication

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Skylight supports an inclusive culture, and we strongly encourage you to immediately speak up if you witness or become aware of exclusionary communication. We recognize that this can be uncomfortable for some people. Nonetheless, we ask you to take on that discomfort.

If you perceive a violation of Skylight’s Code of Conduct or this Intentional Communications Policy, regardless of the speaker’s intent, it’s important that you feel empowered to speak up in the moment, even if the violation doesn’t impact you directly.

When such a situation arises, you can use the buzz word “Ouch.” This word, spoken or written in chat, will flag the situation as something that should be stopped, and the conversation should immediately move on with no questions asked. If there’s time at the end of the meeting, the person who used the buzz word can opt to share why they buzzed. If there’s no time or inclination, they may share to the team later and/or reach out to Skylight’s Chief Operating Officer. They can help craft an explanation for the buzz or facilitate a larger conversation, if necessary.

If you’re not comfortable using the buzz word, or have concerns about someone’s conduct, please reach out to the leadership team. This policy is intended to accompany Skylight’s Code of Conduct Policy.

Future changes

If we decide to change this policy, we’ll update the modification date below.

Updated: April 18, 2023

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