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  1. Blog
  2. Diversity
  3. August 26, 2021

Gender-Neutral Terms for the Workplace & Beyond

To infinity, folks!

Sticker that says "binary is for computers"
Photo courtesy of Delia Giandeini

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. 

Read more: Why That Feeling of Belonging in the Workplace Is So Important

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
Waiter, Waitress Server
Mailman, Mailwoman Mail person, Mail carrier
Policeman, Policewoman Police officer
Crewman, Crewwoman Crew person
Chairman, Chairwoman Chairperson
Businessman, Businesswoman Business person
Weatherman, Weatherwoman Meteorologist, Weather person
Salesman, Saleswoman Salesperson
Stuntman, Stuntwoman Stunt person
Fireman, Firewoman Firefighter
Cameraman, Camerawoman Camera person
Headmistress, Headmaster Head teacher
Steward, Stewardess Flight attendant
Barman, Barmaid Bartender

Read more: What Is Gendered Language & What Are the Alternatives?

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 more: Allyship in Tech: 5 Questions About Gender Equality to Ask Men at Work

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. 

Read more: Anonymous Hiring: What It Is & Why It’s Important

Masculine Term Gender-Neutral Term
Outspoken Honest
Competitive Hardworker
Ninja Multi-tasker
Rockstar Fast-learning, Resilient
Ambitious Self-starter
Assertive Has good communication skills/Communicative
Dominant Possesses good leadership skills
Analytical Creative
Decisive Knowledgeable
Confident Self-aware
Fearless Proactive, curious
Independent Responsible
Guru Expert
Headstrong, Strong-willed Determined
Opinionated Inspiring
Driven Accountable

Read more: How to Write a Job Description for the First Time

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
  • Y’all
  • Peeps
  • People
  • Everyone
  • Folks
  • Friends
  • Colleagues
  • Comrades
  • Associates
  • Team
  • Everybody
  • Pals
  • Homies
  • Crew
  • Squad
  • Pack
  • Humans
  • Peers
  • Crowd
  • Confidants
  • Band
  • Lot
  • Companions
  • Humans
  • Gentlepeople
  • Gang
  • Posse

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. 

Read more: Women in the Workplace Primer: 19 Terms You Need to Know

Gendered Version Gender-Neutral Version
He/Him, She/Her They/Them, Zhe/Zhir
Boyfriend, Girlfriend Partner, Significant other
Husband, Wife Spouse, Partner
Granddaughter, Grandson Grandchild
Grandmother, Grandfather Grandparent
Mother, Father Parent
Brother, Sister Sibling
Woman, Man Person, Adult
Miss, Ms., Mrs., Mr. Mx.
Mankind Humankind
Freshman First-year student
Manmade Synthetic, human-made
Dude Friend

Read more: Miss, Mrs., Ms.: When to Use These Terms & How to Be More Inclusive

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Photo of Cara Hutto

Cara Hutto

Contributor

Cara Hutto is a freelance writer and the former assistant editor at InHerSight. Her writing primarily focuses on workplace rights, job searching, culture, and food, and she holds a bachelor’s degree in media and journalism from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

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