National Capital Chapter

How to Write Gender-Inclusively

By Crystal Borde, Vice President, Diversity + Inclusion Lead at Vanguard Communications

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 Defaulting to words that use “man” is an outdated approach, and there are more inclusive options.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

ManHumans, human beings, people
PolicemanPolice or law enforcement officer
Wives, husbands, spousesPartners
CongressmanRepresentative, senator, congressional representative
Master of ceremoniesEmcee, host, moderator, announcer
He, she, he or she, he/she,They, them
His, hers, his or hers, his/herTheir
Dear Ms. GrangerDear Hermione Granger or Dear Hermione
Ms. Hermione GrangerHermione Granger or Hermione
Dear Sir or Dear MadamDear Colleague or Dear Supporter

This piece originally appeared on the Vanguard Communications Blog

About the Author

Crystal Borde is a Vice President and Diversity + Inclusion practice lead at Vanguard Communications, a Hispanic woman-owned PR and social marketing firm working for more than 30 years to open hearts and minds about issues and individuals, and realize a more inclusive and equitable world.

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