I’m sure you’ve experienced this: several things all happening close together, all focussing your attention on the same thing. Three recent events converged to remind me about gender-neutral language.
- As some of you know, I recently started a new contract as District Manager for the 2016 Census for the Shire and Wollongong. It’s been a while since I sat in a corporate office with colleagues, listening to a group of managers speak to one another. It became apparent that much of what I’d spent the 1970s fighting for, has not been achieved. I heard that we should concentrate on getting ‘the best man for the job.’ I sat back and watched men being treated as if their opinions were valid when they butted into conversations, while women’s voices were ignored. I noticed gender-based jokes in presentations.
- I recently finished writing an article for the magazine, Vintage Made on the 70s and what the 70s achieved for women. Society has come a long way since then, but, believe me, there is still a difference in the way men and women treated.
- Last week I read an advertising brochure and was very surprised by the gender specific language that brochure included.
Why should we use gender-neutral language? I have heard—even in the last few weeks—that it doesn’t matter. That “everyone understands what we mean,” that there’s no need to be so ‘politically correct’. And I’ve heard this from both men and women.
However, the effect of gender-specific language is, on one hand, to alienate those women for whom it is an issue. On the other hand, at a more subliminal level, it subtly omits women (or occasionally men) from your target audience. Why risk that if you don’t have to?
Does your company use gender-specific language?
Tips on avoiding gender specific language
it’s always better in official brochures from your business if you don’t focus unnecessarily on a person’s gender. If your business is for men and women then it’s much better to be inclusive rather than exclusive.
- Rewrite the sentence to avoid any need for gender. Substitute ‘a’ or ‘the’, or rewrite the sentence, or make it plural.
Change: A good writer takes his job very seriously.
To: A good writer takes the job very seriously.
Or: A good writer takes writing very seriously.
Or: Good writers take their work very seriously.
- Avoid words with ‘man’ in them, such as manpower, chairman, man-hours et cetera. You can easily use crew, staff, labour or personnel, chair, chairperson, leader or convener, and time or work hours.
- Don’t use gender-specific job titles, it’s much better to say server rather than waitress, host instead of hostess et cetera.
- I was quite surprised to read a letter (to me) the other day addressed to, “Dear Sir.” I realise that ‘Dr’ doesn’t tell people my gender, but it is surely possible that I might be female, isn’t it? If you don’t know the gender of the person to whom you are writing, Dear Sir or Madam still works perfectly well.
- It’s not polite to refer to the women in the room as ladies or girls unless you are referring to the men as gentlemen or boys.
- Don’t put a gender-word in front of a job description. He’s a nurse. He’s not a male nurse. She’s a doctor, she’s not a lady-doctor (and yes, I heard that one just last week!)
Inclusive language is best for your customers, for your community, for your industry and for your company. So consider what changes you might need to make in your business documentation and on your website.
Thank you for all the good feedback about the gifts that I sent to you last time. I’m glad you enjoyed them and I hope they were useful.
Another gift for you
If there are any particular writing templates that you would like for yourself or for your business, please let me know and I may be able to give them to you in a later newsletter. Just let me know here.
Until next time, write well, write with passion, and use all your writing for good.