What’s your preferred pronoun? He/him? She/her? They/them? Or is your preference ze?
To create more gender identity inclusion, embracing gender neutrality in our communications means posing these questions.
As communicators, we strive to create more inclusive environments, so it’s important that we use language and phrasing that allows individuals of differing gender identities and expressions to feel included and represented. We’ve been trained as writers to default to using gender-identifying language, including pronouns, so it can be challenging to change our writing approach.
Fortunately, more organizations and individuals today include preferred pronouns in email signatures and on name tags at events, creating a more inclusive world. Here are a few ways that communicators can modify their phrasing and language to be more inclusive of all gender identities.
- Make gender visible in communications only when doing so is critical to the understanding or goal of the messaging. If you don’t need to mention gender, use gender-neutral language instead, such as individuals or persons.
- Avoid using “man” or terms that include it (e.g., “congressman”) to represent all people. Defaulting to words that use “man” is an outdated approach, and there are more inclusive options. Avoid gender-biased expressions or those that reinforce gender stereotypes.
- Ask the people you are addressing or writing about what pronoun and form of address you should use. This gesture shows respect and can provide helpful information for you to share with language translators to ensure that translations are accurate and inclusive as well.
- Structure sentences so that singular pronouns (such as “he,” “she,” “his” or “her”) and adjectives aren’t needed. You can use plural pronouns, plural adjectives and relative pronouns (such as “who,” “they,” “them” or “one”) instead, or “one,” “they,” “their” or a person’s full name if you are unsure of their gender identity.
- Be consistent and equitable in how you refer to women and men. If you refer to one person by their first and last names, courtesy title, or profession, you should refer to the other person in the same way. For example, if both male and female presenters have Ph.D.s, then refer to both as doctors or by their first names.
- Use the form of address preferred by each person (e.g., Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., Congressperson, etc.), their full name, or their first name only in emails, other correspondence and promotional materials (such as name tags). When you do not know their preference, use their full name. If you need to use a form of address for a woman, “Ms.” is more inclusive than “Mrs.,” regardless of marital status.
If you’re unsure about how to address or refer to someone, don’t be afraid to ask. Asking individuals or your audience about their gender language preferences demonstrates that you are thoughtful and intentional about inclusion, and will help you make your audiences feel welcome, regardless of their gender identify or expression. Use the table below as a reference for how to use language to communicate gender inclusiveness. For additional reading about gender inclusive writing, explore guides by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the United Nations.
|Less Inclusive||More Inclusive|
|Man||Humans, human beings, people|
|Policeman||Police or law enforcement officer|
|Wives, husbands, spouses||Partners|
|Congressman||Representative, senator, congressional representative|
|Master of ceremonies||Emcee, host, moderator, announcer|
|He, she, he or she, he/she,||They, them|
|His, hers, his or hers, his/her||Their|
|Dear Ms. Granger||Dear Hermione Granger or Dear Hermione|
|Ms. Hermione Granger||Hermione Granger or Hermione|
|Dear Sir or Dear Madam||Dear Colleague or Dear Supporter|