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SAP sets alternatives to master/slave, blacklist/whitelist

SAP is making language for documentation, training materials and user interfaces and on websites more inclusive.

SAP is dropping the use of master/slave and blacklist/whitelist. It wants its language to be as inclusive as possible and is replacing the well-known terms with alternatives, depending on usage.

Language changes like these have the makings of an industry-wide trend. They have grown out of the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S., which have given rise to conversations around diversity, equity and social justice. In the tech industry, protests have prompted companies to look inward at their own demographics as well as instigated a second look at some of its common terminology

The changes to blacklist/whitelist, used to indicate who or what has access to company systems, and master/slave, used to indicate which device or process has control over other devices or processes, may also lead to more descriptive or precise terminology.

SAP has relied on its in-house linguistics experts to develop new terminology. It has called this a "big project" because it involves careful consideration of the right alternatives as well as making changes in documentation, training materials and user interfaces and on websites of its major current products.

For SAP, master/slave alternatives referencing control will now be known as "leading and alternative." In the context of a duplication, the new language will be "source" and "replica." 

SAP name changes decision tree

Microsoft's alternative approach

Wiebke Thelo, senior vice president and COO of development operations for product engineering at SAP, said the goal is to use "more inclusive language" in its documentation. SAP is now working with major product owners, which include S/4HANA, SuccessFactors and others, to make the changes. 

The end result is that we will not only have technically accurate nomenclature, but terminology that is inclusive and thoughtful.
Wiebke TheloDevelopment COO, SAP

The changes will be applied across all major SAP products in English and German, and other languages will be added in the future. 

The blacklist/whitelist alternatives have several options each: blocklist/allowlist, exclude list/include list and avoid list/prefer list. 

SAP is not alone in its push for term changes. When Oracle was asked by SearchSAP if it plans to replace slave/master and blacklist/whitelist terminology, the firm said yes. A spokesperson wrote, "Oracle is adjusting the terminology used in our products, technical documentation and communications to ensure it is in alignment with modern standards and best practices in the industry."

Microsoft has also dropped use of master/slave, but it has at least four alternatives, depending on usage. 

In an Aug. 4 posting, the Microsoft style guide recommended these master/slave alternatives: primary/replica, primary/secondary, principal/agent, controller/worker "or other appropriate terms depending on the context."

SAP's Thelo is not ruling out changing other terms, but the company is starting with these two for now. The "most pressing two pairs are really master/slave and blacklist/whitelist," she said. 

"The end result is that we will not only have technically accurate nomenclature, but terminology that is inclusive and thoughtful," Thelo said. 

Not the only step

SAP hopes to complete most of the terminology changes by end of year. The firm plans to communicate its steps to employees and customers. 

"We understand the path from awareness to change in behavior takes time and multiple steps," Thelo said. "We will ask our customers and partner-facing employees to communicate frequently and offer frequent reminders about the new terms."

Changing terminology isn't the only step SAP is taking related to diversity and inclusion. In June, it announced that it was increasing the percentage of Black employees at SAP America from 3% to 6% by 2023. It employs about 19,000 people in the U.S.

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