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Every day we write to a broad audience and while it’s fine in a fictional piece of work to be gender-specific, in our business communications we often have to be more general. And, using the combination “him/her” is cumbersome.

It is so important these days to remain gender neutral, especially when compiling manuals, office policies and procedures, and employee handbooks. Using ‘sexist language’ can be a costly mistake – even resulting in missing out on a job a sexist tem is spotted in a resume/CV.

Traditionally we’ve used third-person masculine pronouns (he, him, his, himself). Many ‘jobs for the boys’ had the suffix ‘-man’ (fireman, chairman, foreman), while women were indicated by ‘-ess’ (stewardess, waitress, actress).

Jobs are now gender-neutral! My children talk of a ‘postal worker’, ‘flight attendant’ or a ‘firefighter’, and I’m trying hard to do the same!

It seems we’re trying to wipe ‘man’ off the planet! ‘Mankind’, ‘the average man’, ‘manned’ are now replaced by words such as ‘people’, ‘average person’ and ‘staffed’.

What are some options for ensuring that your writing is gender neutral? First, adopt the titles that are in use today:

» Postal worker/ letter carrier
» French (not Frenchman)
» Chairperson or Chair
» Spokesperson
» Flight Attendant
» Sales representative
» Police Officer
» Firefighter
» Host (no more hostess with the mostest!)
» Journalist, Writer
» Actor (no Actresses)
» Sportsperson
» Nurse

If using a sentence where the subject can be ‘he’ or ‘she’, or ‘him’ or ‘her’, try to find another way to write the sentence without using ‘him/her’ or ‘he/she’.

For example, the sentence:

Before you invite him/her to interview, check his/her references.

You should change the wording to:

Before you invite the candidate to interview, check the references provided.

Public relation materials, advertisements or job applications are particular areas in which to be careful. Make sure your words are eunuchs! It is very easy to alienate new customers, clients or potential employees by using sexist language.

As a new mum, it tickled me to read ‘baby’ books that seemed to leap into panic every time they had to refer to ‘the baby’. Obviously writing for their audience they had to acknowledge that babies are ‘girls’ or ‘boys’ – for no other reason than they ran out of words for ‘the baby’ sometimes!

One particularly delightful book opted to give male gender pronouns to one chapter, and female to the next and let them switch back and forth through the book.

Do you find this need to make a eunuch of language frustrating or necessary? Where do you find most problems using gender neutral constructions?

Proofreader, copy-writer and copy-editor

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