Microsoft Office now has a “wokeness” editor that will flag your writing if it contains insensitive phrases. Welcome to the dumb culture wars, Office settings.
The software suite gained a feature that will call out your writing for being non-inclusive or containing offensive language. In the same way a spellchecker looks for typos and grammar mistakes, this inclusivity editor, available for Microsoft 365 subscribers, scans your work for inappropriate terms.
The new feature goes beyond flagging ethnic slurs and will highlight when you’ve used words or phrases containing age bias, cultural bias, sexual orientation bias, gender bias, racial bias, as well as gender-specific language.
Some examples include changing “blacklist” and “whitelist” to “accepted” or “allowed list,” or swapping the gender-specific “postman” with “postal worker.” Similarly, “humanity” or “humankind” is recommended over “mankind,” and “expert” is suggested when the software flags “master,” a term linked with slavery. (In 2020, Microsoft-owned Github removed “master” and “slave” from its website.)
We verified that the feature is already available to Microsoft 365 customers but is turned off by default. And rather confusingly, Microsoft gives you the ability to turn off some inclusivity features while leaving others off, so you can have it check for gender bias but ignore any ethnic slurs. When enabled, inappropriate terms are underlined in purple and an inclusive alternative is presented.
Microsoft told Daily Mail that the spellchecker might not be “suitable for all scenarios” and emphasised that it could be turned off if needed. While there are surely scenarios where people don’t want a nudge toward political correctness (say, if you were referencing a quote like “One small step for mankind”), you can also just ignore the purple underline.
“Microsoft understands that not every Editor suggestion may be suitable for all users and all scenarios,” the company told Daily Mail. “That’s why we let users be in control of their final output. Editor is a completely optional tool that users can turn on or turn off at any point. Editor does not make any autocorrections. The user has control over which suggestions they choose to use, if any. They will be able to turn on and off each one of them individually.”
It seems like Microsoft is tip-toeing, afraid to potentially anger folks who consider “wokeness” to be toxic, or whatever. If Microsoft wants people to know how “woke” it is, the company should stick to its convictions and make this a default feature that can be turned off when needed, instead of quietly releasing the tool (we’ve asked Microsoft when it became first available) and hiding it deep in the settings.
For now, to enable the feature, you have to go to the “Editor” tab in the top ribbon and select “Settings” near the button. From there, choose “Proofing” and “Settings…” then “Grammar and Refinement” from the drop-down. Here, you can select which categories of inclusivity you’d like the editor to include.
The new spellcheck tool is being rolled out to the latest version of Microsoft Word in Microsoft 365, the company’s productivity cloud subscription service. Unfortunately, those who use the free browser-based version or the standalone one-payment Office 2019 will not be able to access the editor, according to the Daily Mail.
We’ve reached out to Microsoft for more details on the inclusivity editor and will update this article if we hear back.
Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.