6 Tips for Using Gender-Inclusive Language in Business Communications

3 min read

March 11, 2024

How many meetings have started with a cheery “Hey guys…”? It may be a standard, friendly greeting, but “Hey guys” also carries a gendered implication most of us might easily gloss over.

While we often use “guys” to address a mixed audience, it also inadvertently assumes a male default – and might leave some people feeling left out. Gendered language is not only exclusive, but it can reinforce stereotypes around gender roles.

Many businesses are updating their everyday language to be more thoughtful and inclusive. This is especially important for women and nonbinary people who may feel discouraged and marginalized at work. LGBTQ+ employees are far more likely to face microaggressions and feel less included.

The shift to gender-inclusive language can be nuanced and challenging. Many of us might unknowingly have unconscious biases reinforced by how gender is worked into everyday conversations. It can take conscious effort to acknowledge and shift how we speak, but it can significantly impact ourselves and others.

A Note on the Difference Between Gender Neutrality and Gender Inclusivity: There’s a subtle but important difference between gender-neutral and gender-inclusive language. Although they may be used interchangeably, “neutral” implies not taking a stance. On the other hand, “inclusion” is an active affirmation of all identities. Inclusive language acknowledges and celebrates diversity in society.

6 Tips for Using Gender-Inclusive Language in Your Communications

English is a partially gendered language, meaning specific pronouns and nouns have male and female connotations. We may use gendered terminology without thinking anything of it. But some small shifts can make all communications more inclusive.

1. Avoid gendered addresses.

Returning to “Hey guys” above, other ways exist to address groups of people. Stay away from terms like “ladies and gentlemen” since that doesn’t include people who identify as nonbinary. Try “Hi all” or “Welcome, everyone.”

2. Remove gendered endings.

Endings like “-man” or “-woman” are often unnecessary. Instead of saying “chairman” or “chairwoman,” you could say “the chair of the board.”

3. Don’t specify gender if it’s not relevant.

As a rule, if you wouldn’t set a man’s position, don’t do it for a woman. For example, instead of “female doctor,” simply say “doctor.”

4. Use the singular “they.”

While some grammar sticklers may argue that “they” is plural, it can be used instead of assuming an individual’s gender. The singular “they” doesn’t imply male or female or exclude nonbinary people.

5. Identify your pronouns.

Include your pronouns (“she/her,” “he/him,” “they/them,” or any combination) on your name tag, in your work profile, or in your email signature. Even if you identify as cisgender (that is, the gender you were assigned at birth), this can help non-binary or trans-co-workers feel safe in sharing their pronouns.

6. When in doubt, reword.

Before you send that email or post that article, take a moment to double-check it for non-inclusive terminology. You can ask a colleague to review it as well. If you’re ever unsure, there’s almost always a way to rephrase anything without using gender.

These tips can improve formal or informal communication, whether spoken or written. For more information on using gender-inclusive language in the workplace, read the UN’s guidelines or refer to the Conscious Style Guide.

Here's how to boost your employee and customer loyalty >

The Business Benefits of Using Gender-Inclusive Language

There are tangible benefits to using gender-inclusive language in the workplace. Eliminating gender-specific terminology improves the employee experience and engagement for everyone. Research shows that companies with greater gender diversity in leadership positions are more resilient and profitable.

Inclusivity needs to start at the beginning of the employee lifecycle. Job listings with male-coded terminology like “competitive,” “ambitious,” and “dominant” can discourage women from applying. Gender-specific job titles like “waitress” or “hostess” are outdated and can be replaced with neutral terms.

Using gender-inclusive language leads to improved communications and collaboration. Coworkers who feel comfortable sharing their identities are more likely to participate in conversations, increasing employee engagement and productivity.

Additionally, some nonbinary people may be inadvertently excluded from meaningful conversations because their colleagues don’t know how to address them. This not only feels demoralizing but can limit their opportunities for advancement.

It may take some subtle adjustments, but businesses that embrace it can reap the benefits throughout all levels of the organization. Employers must take their unified communications and turn them into inclusive communications.

Inclusivity doesn’t just enhance employee satisfaction – customer satisfaction and brand loyalty are also impacted. Consumers are more likely to consider purchasing a product from a brand they think is diverse or inclusive. Fifty-seven percent of buyers are more loyal to brands that commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). That number jumps to an astounding 90% of Gen Z customers.

Not Just a Trend – A More Inclusive Future

Young people are challenging gender norms, with 56% of Millennials and 50% of Gen Z agreeing that traditional gender roles and binary gender labels are outdated. They want to work for and shop for companies that share their values.

As Gen Z enters the workforce, they’re looking for employers committed to enacting DEI and social initiatives. Companies that want to attract and retain talent from the younger generation must prove their dedication to including people of all identities, from the job description to the language they use during the workday.

With more and more people embracing non-traditional gender roles, companies must include them in their messaging and celebrate their diversity. Even subtle changes like shifting toward a gender-inclusive language can be a big step for businesses to make their employees and customers feel more welcome. Inclusive, unified communications are an important part of the process forward.

Ready to talk to sales? Contact us.