“Using gender-neutral language isn’t about being politically correct, it’s just about being correct.”
― Alok Vaid-Menon
Gender neutral language and pronouns aren’t new or complicated. They’re mostly commonplace words and expressions we’re all familiar with. And when you use inclusive terms, you demonstrate respect for everyone in your workplace.
Making small tweaks to how you communicate has the power to make people feel seen and included. There’s no downside. And it’s easy!
For everyone who’s been out of school for a bit, let’s start with a quick refresher on personal pronouns. A personal pronoun is a short word we use as a simple substitute for someone’s proper name.
When speaking and writing, we use pronouns so frequently that we don’t even think about it. But using gender-specific pronouns, like she/her and he/him, can make potentially incorrect or hurtful assumptions about an individual’s gender identity.
Using someone’s correct gender pronouns is one of the most basic ways to demonstrate your respect for their identity.
There are many third-person pronouns that someone might choose to use, including they/them, zie/hir, xe/xem, and many others. When you know what term an individual uses for themselves, you should use that term.
If you are unsure, a simple gender-neutral term that’s easy to use is they/them.
And yes, it is grammatically correct to use they/them in the singular!
For example, when introducing a new employee, you might say, “This is Alex. It’s their first day of work.”
That sounds perfectly fine, don’t you think?
Easy-peasy. And respectful.
When meeting someone, it can be helpful to introduce yourself with your pronouns.
- “I’m Aden, and my pronouns are he/him.”
- “I’m Chris, and my pronouns are she/her.”
- “I’m Arlo, and my pronouns are they/them.”
- “I’m Ryland, and my pronouns are ey/em.”
Introducing yourself with your name and pronouns is friendly and inclusive, and welcomes the other person to share their pronouns, without seeming pushy.
Note: Avoid the expression “preferred pronouns” because it implies that gender is a preference or a choice. Just say “pronouns”.
Gender Neutral Language
A lot of our language and the expressions we use are gendered. Mother, father, girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, wife, ladies and gentlemen, etc. The list is endless.
These words and expressions are not meant to offend. They’re just terms we drop into our conversations with very little thought.
But there are gender neutral options that are just as common and easy to use. For example:
- Mother/father => parent
- Girlfriend/Boyfriend => partner
- Husband/Wife => partner or spouse
- Ladies and Gentlemen => distinguished guests
- Hi guys => hi everyone
It might take a bit of practice to swap gendered terms for neutral alternatives, but it’s not an onerous task. For example, parent is as commonplace as mother/father.
When you repeatedly choose gender neutral terms and pronouns, they become more front-of-mind. Over time, your brain will start to grab parent without even thinking about it.
Making conscious changes to the language you use at work – and at home – is easy. And it can go a long way towards making everyone feel comfortable, safe, and welcomed!
Kim Scaravelli is an entrepreneur, marketer, content consultant, and author of the book, Making Words Work. In it, she provides practical advice on how to strengthen your creativity and gain confidence in your writing skills.
Kim’s popular newsletter, Writing & Other Stuff, arrives in inboxes every second Wednesday, filled with writing tips, timely insights, and resources. You can sign up at kimscaravelli.com.