How to Use Gender-Neutral Language at Work and in Life

From Grammarly Blog:

Every day, we make thousands of decisions, including what to wear and eat and how to handle little problems or unexpected moments that pop up. The way we speak introduces more of those choices.

But, unlike many of the other decisions we make, the way we use language can significantly affect those around us. Language can make people feel respected, or it can make them feel excluded, and it’s all in the way we choose to use it.

That’s where gender-neutral language comes into play. Here’s what you should know about it, and how to work it into your daily life.

. . . .

What is gender-neutral language?

Gender-neutral language is simply a way of talking about people without assuming their gender. For example, it’s referring to someone you don’t know as “they” rather than using the pronoun “he” or “she,” or addressing a group as “everyone” rather than saying, “Hey, guys.”

Luckily, the English language is relatively gender-neutral in many respects. For instance, many nouns (think: “writer,” “president,” or “acrobat”) are gender-neutral. However, that doesn’t mean that gendered language is uncommon. In fact, gendered language has been a part of our lexicon for a long time. (The United States’ Declaration of Independence even proclaims that “all men are created equal.”) So you may not realize when you’re using gendered language, even as it shapes how you see the world.

Using gender-neutral language is an important habit because it demonstrates respect for people of all backgrounds, genders, and beliefs, and it includes everyone in the conversation. This is an especially helpful way to show support for members of LGBTQIA+ communities. And while not everyone finds the language people use about them important, it’s best to land on the side of using inclusive and empathetic language.

How to use gender-neutral language in the workplace

One of the common areas where gendered language may appear is in an office or a workspace. For example, a professional email may start with a form of address, like “Mr.” or “Mrs./Ms.” However, if you don’t know the recipient’s preferred pronouns, the one you select may not align with their gender identity. So when in doubt, choose a gender-neutral alternative, like “Mx.,” or use the person’s full name without a title. If you’re not familiar with the person you’re addressing, you can address their profession or group without noting their gender, such as “Dear Professor,” “Dear Members of the Board,” or “Dear Hiring Committee.”

Gender-neutral alternatives to gendered words

While many English words are naturally gender-neutral, some still carry gendered connotations. So it’s also important to pay attention to your language in less formal conversations, like those with coworkers over Slack. Here are a few examples of the types of words that may be common in the workplace, as well as alternatives to use instead:

  • Businessman → Businessperson, business representative
  • Chairman/chairwoman → Chairperson, chair
  • Foreman → Foreperson
  • Salesman → Salesperson
  • Manpower → Workforce, workers 
  • Mailman → Letter carrier, postal worker
  • Manned → Crewed

Link to the rest at Grammarly Blog

PG was born and raised several years ago. He is thankful that his parents taught him to be polite to everyone he encountered and modeled that behavior for him.

At a time when many fathers had served in the armed forces during World War II and brought home racial nicknames for certain nationalities, PG’s father never manifested that behavior.

PG’s closest friends when he was a young sprout was Japanese. Only much later did PG conclude that his parents had likely been held in detention camps for Japanese, including American citizens, during the war because of their race.

One day, someone stopped by the farmhouse where PG and his family were living and asked for directions to someplace several miles away. The man seeking help said that he had asked at the neighboring farm, but didn’t think that the [racial epithet omitted] had given him correct directions.

PG was an upset little boy after hearing that and his father spoke with him about treating everyone with respect and kindness and never using the epithet he had just heard to describe anyone else.

With that rambling background, PG will say that he is happy to use preferred terms to describe others, but isn’t happy when some who prefer a particular form of address or manner of referencing people like themselves become abusive and aggressive towards those who may not have understood that they had not referenced the person by the “correct” term for members of the LGBTQIA+ (which not long ago was commonly understood to be LGBT).

In PG’s experience, too many people assume that others are purposely demeaning them by using general terms that caused no offense five, ten or twenty years ago.

8 thoughts on “How to Use Gender-Neutral Language at Work and in Life”

  1. Yeah, no. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m not 100% changing my speech patterns to satisfy someone’s demands that I be genderless when speaking (this includes those pesky preferred pronouns too). I have changed a few of the more old-fashioned and still highly correct usage of certain words to words/phrases that are less cringey, and I certainly do not use the nasty racial insults in my day-to-day vocabulary (and not even in my stories) but for the most part, I still keep my speech patterns as is.

    I’m willing to change some things in my life, but not to the extent that Grammarly and other reputable sytle guides others are trying to force feed us into accepting.

  2. Gender-neutral language is simply a way of talking about people without assuming their gender.

    Why bother? We can observe and recognize the sex of people. We all do it. Always have. If some guy is upset that he is referred to as “he,” who cares?

    However, I urge everyone to address LGBTQIA++ people as, “you.”

  3. In a recent Zoom meeting, we were asked to introduce ourselves and our pronouns. All made predictable choices, that matched their presentation of self.
    I said my name, and also added that I didn’t care about pronouns. Nobody minded (probably because they are all grown-ups).
    I can understand those that respond with “You can call me Your Royal Majesty” or some other snide response, though.
    What I generally do is to manage my speech so as to avoid pronouns entirely. My general take on the practice of insisting on people knowing your pronouns is that, if it’s not obvious, then the problem may be YOU, not me.
    Then I remembered that meme showing aging rockers, with text that suggests they look a lot like your aging auntie – which, to be fair, some of them do.
    Maybe we should all try not to unnecessarily pi$$ of others, and be gracious when someone makes a mistake.

    • Tsk. Tsk.
      You expect polite rationality?
      This decade?
      Disappointment lies down that road.

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