Getting to grips with gender-neutral language
It's 100 years since women first won the right to vote in the UK. But the last 12 months have shown that not everyone has kicked sexism out of the workplace yet. Even if you're busy reducing your gender pay gap, might there be sexist language in your policy documents or your template letters that's undermining your hard work?
Faced with yet another letter, email or contract that assumes they're male, female staff, clients or suppliers are likely to be less keen to do business with you. And it's not just the women. Many of your male clients and contacts will also mark you down for not being inclusive.
Some organisations used to take the view that gender-neutral language was awkward or unnecessary. Perhaps virtually all of their clients were male, so they didn't feel it was important to change their habits. But in 2018, that kind of laziness won't wash.
So what should you be doing?
1. Size up the problem
Start by talking to a senior leader in your organisation. Show them an example of the sexist language you've found and explain why it matters.
Once you've got leaders on board, make a list of the standard communications your organisation uses to write to staff, customers, suppliers and partners. Do some teams use template letters or emails? What about your supplier contracts, staff guidelines, or job adverts?
2. Find and replace
Gender-neutral language doesn't have to be cumbersome. For example, did you know you can replace he with they, rather than he or she? Yes, is it OK to replace a singular pronoun with a plural one – here's why.
Other examples to find and replace might include Dear Sir, Messrs, him and his. And could you do without titles such as Mr, Mrs, Ms and Miss? It's much easier to address people as just [first name] or [first name] [last name], rather than trying to ensure your customer database contains everyone's correct titles.
Trickier decisions might involve roles and job titles – do you still have a chairman rather than a chair, for example? Do you sometimes refer to workmen, postmen or firemen in your internal communications?
3. Make it permanent
To make sure change sticks, it's important to communicate what you're doing and why. Make sure everyone knows that standard documents have been updated, and encourage them to use the latest version.
If you have tone of voice guidelines or a style guide, these might need updating. It's worth including a statement of your views on gender-neutral language in these with examples of dos and don'ts.
That way, you can be confident that future written communications will put your brand across in the right way.