Using gender-neutral terms in the workplace contributes to employees’ sense of belonging and happiness. Research shows that belonging is linked to an increase in job performance, a 50 percent drop in turnover risk, and 75 percent reduction in sick days, resulting in annual savings of more than $52M for a 10,000 person company. And using non gender-specific terms is a super simple first step to improve workplace culture and promote belonging for women, trans people, and gender non-conforming people.
Gender-neutral terms are also integral within job postings to encourage women to apply to certain jobs. For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from explicitly soliciting a certain gender in job listings, but research shows that job descriptions in male-dominated industries like software programming still tend to overuse masculine-coded words like “competitive” and “dominate” compared to fields dominated by women, unconsciously deterring women from applying.
Because women don’t apply to jobs unless they’re 100 percent qualified, gendered language and unnecessary, fluffy adjective requirements perpetuate the cycle of women being barred from entering higher-paying, male-dominated fields. Below, we’ve listed dozens of gender-neutral alternative terms to use when describing common job titles, writing job descriptions, addressing groups of people, and navigating additional everyday situations in order to help your organization attract and retain top talent in an inclusive, welcoming way.
Gender-neutral terms for job titles
Take a look at any job board, news article, or data report and you’ll quickly notice how many people still utilize gender-marking in job titles. Titles like “chairman” or “mailman” that contain the word “man” at the end denote gender, which can cause a disconnect for job seekers starting from a very young age. If young children are exposed to job titles in school and in books that specify gender, they might be more likely to internalize that type of gender-marking and think certain jobs aren’t attainable for them because of their gender.
In order to be inclusive of all genders and teach young children that they’re capable of applying to *any* job, use these gender-neutral terms.
|Gendered Title||Gender-Neutral Title|
|Mailman, Mailwoman||Mail person, Mail carrier|
|Policeman, Policewoman||Police officer|
|Crewman, Crewwoman||Crew person|
|Businessman, Businesswoman||Business person|
|Weatherman, Weatherwoman||Meteorologist, Weather person|
|Stuntman, Stuntwoman||Stunt person|
|Cameraman, Camerawoman||Camera person|
|Headmistress, Headmaster||Head teacher|
|Steward, Stewardess||Flight attendant|
Gender-neutral language in job descriptions
Despite the uptick in research explaining the importance and benefits of gender-neutral, inclusive language in general, unconscious bias and gendered words still run rampant in many job descriptions.
For example, usage of the word “ninja” increased nearly 400 percent in job listings on Indeed.com between 2012 and 2016. And while the word “ninja” may be intended to make tech jobs sound exciting, it often dissuades women from applying, since society often regards “ninja” as masculine. These gender-coded words cause companies to miss out on top talent—according to a 2020 McKinsey survey, 39 percent of respondents said they’d abandoned a potential job opportunity because they felt that the organization wasn’t inclusive.
Read the list below, and if you’re an employer, go the extra mile and try using a free online tool like Gender Decoder for Job Ads that can automatically scan your job descriptions for gender-biased language.
|Masculine Term||Gender-Neutral Term|
|Assertive||Has good communication skills/Communicative|
|Dominant||Possesses good leadership skills|
Gender-neutral ways to address a group of people
All too often, we fall back on using the non-inclusive term “guys” in the workplace. Even though “guys” may sometimes seem like an informal, friendly greeting, it’s male-coded and not inclusive of people of all genders. Instead of addressing a group as, “Hey guys/ladies and gentlemen/dudes,” use these fun gender-neutral terms:
|Gendered Version||Gender-Neutral Version|
|Guys, Dudes, Ladies and Gentleman||
Everyday gender-neutral terms
Work obviously isn’t the only place where gender-neutral terms are necessary. There are terms that we use everyday that specify gender that are easily replaceable with gender-neutral words. It’s incredibly important to never assume a person’s gender, sexuality, or marital status if you don’t know them. Below are terms and pronouns that can replace gendered words in everyday life.
|Gendered Version||Gender-Neutral Version|
|He/Him, She/Her||They/Them, Zhe/Zhir|
|Boyfriend, Girlfriend||Partner, Significant other|
|Husband, Wife||Spouse, Partner|
|Woman, Man||Person, Adult|
|Miss, Ms., Mrs., Mr.||Mx.|