Insights from Bonn Search Partners

A Guide to Gender-Neutral Communication for Executive Leaders

transgender person working at a laptop

In the world of executive search, diversity, equity, and inclusion are not just a moral imperative. The practice of DEI serves as a strategic, competitive advantage. One crucial aspect of fostering an inclusive environment is gender-neutral communication. Using language that is inclusive and free from gender bias allows companies to create a more welcoming and respectful space for everyone. In turn, this contributes to a talent acquisition strategy that attracts a wider range of quality candidates. Further, it enhances their reputation and contributes to a more equitable professional environment.

We will explore the power of gender-neutral communication and provide valuable tips for incorporating inclusive language into daily interactions.

The Importance of Gender-Neutral Communication

Traditional language often reflects gender biases, and in the context of executive search, this can inadvertently discourage diverse candidates from applying for leadership roles. Gender-neutral communication seeks to eliminate such biases, creating an environment where individuals of all gender identities feel valued and respected.

Gender-neutral communication is about recognizing and affirming the diversity of gender identities and expressions. It involves using language that does not assume or reinforce gender stereotypes, allowing individuals to feel seen, heard, and valued. This is especially important in professional settings, where language can have a significant impact on workplace culture and relationships.

Strategy 1: Using Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Replace traditional, gender-specific pronouns like “he” or “she” with gender-neutral alternatives like “they” or “them.” Otherwise,  you may unintentionally exclude individuals who identify outside of the gender binary. This simple adjustment makes communication more inclusive and acknowledges the diverse range of gender identities. This way, we can create a more inclusive environment where all individuals feel respected and valued.

For example, instead of saying, “He is a talented engineer,” you can say, “They are a talented engineer.” This small adjustment in language acknowledges and validates the diverse range of gender identities and expressions within the workplace.

Strategy 2: Using Gender-Inclusive Language

Using gender-inclusive language involves avoiding gender-specific terms and using more neutral alternatives instead. Many traditional job titles and descriptions contain gender-biased language that can deter individuals from diverse backgrounds from applying. To create a more inclusive workplace, it is essential to use gender-neutral job titles and descriptions.

Instead of using “businessman” or “salesman,” you can use “businessperson” or “salesperson.” By doing so, you are creating a more inclusive language that recognizes the contributions of individuals of all genders. Similarly, when writing job descriptions, focus on the skills and qualifications required rather than assumptions about gender. By doing so, you are opening doors for individuals of all genders to apply and contribute their unique talents and perspectives.

Strategy 3: Encouraging Pronoun Sharing

Personal gender pronouns are the pronouns that a person identifies with and would like to be called when their proper name is not being used. Examples include “she/her/hers,” “he/him/his,” and “they/them/theirs.” Businesses should include language in their employee policies stipulating that people can expect their colleagues to use the pronouns they designate.

In your communications, email signatures, Zoom meetings, LinkedIn profiles, and other places, encourage candidates and employees to share their preferred pronouns. This not only normalizes the practice but also signals that your executive search firm respects and recognizes the diversity of gender identities.

If you make a mistake and someone corrects you, say “Thank you” instead of “I’m sorry” to own the responsibility for your mistake. Practice using someone’s pronouns so that you can get this right as soon as possible. Having to correct others who misgender them is exhausting for many transgender and non-binary people.

Strategy 4: Avoiding Gendered Assumptions and Stereotypes

Gendered assumptions and stereotypes are oversimplified generalizations about people based on their gender. These assumptions often lead to unfair biases and discrimination, hindering individuals’ potential and perpetuating gender inequality.

Avoid making assumptions about someone’s abilities, interests, role, status, or preferences based on their gender. Instead, focus on individual skills, qualifications, and experiences when interacting with others.

For instance, rather than assuming that women in the construction industry are only interested in office-based roles, recognize and value their expertise in all aspects of the field. Similarly, avoid assuming that men in marketing are naturally better at sales and instead acknowledge their diverse skillsets and contributions.

Strategy 5: Providing Inclusive Feedback and Recognition

Create an open environment where employees feel comfortable providing feedback on gendered language and suggesting alternatives. Especially when making statements or corrections to executive leadership, the company culture should practice a policy of true non-retaliation when called upon.

When giving feedback or recognizing someone’s achievements, focus on their individual accomplishments rather than tying it to their gender. Instead of saying, “You did a great job for a woman in engineering,” say, “You did a great job. Your engineering skills and expertise are outstanding.” This type of feedback not only avoids reinforcing gender stereotypes but also highlights the individual’s skills and abilities.

Strategy 6: Educating Your Team

Provide training and resources to help your team understand the importance of gender-neutral language and how to implement it effectively. Educating employees about diversity and inclusion is crucial for fostering a respectful and welcoming work environment. This education raises awareness of unconscious bias, promotes understanding of diverse cultures, builds empathy, and contributes to a more inclusive workplace.

Organizational policies should clearly articulate the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, outline expectations for employee behavior, establish a reporting process for discrimination and harassment, and provide resources for employees to learn more about these topics.

 

Embracing gender-neutral communication can help break down barriers, foster inclusivity, and encourage collaboration. The strategies mentioned above are just a starting point for creating a more inclusive and respectful environment for individuals of all genders. Remember, small changes in language and communication can have a significant impact. Let’s embrace the transformative power of language and open doors for a more inclusive future. Together, we can create a world where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued regardless of their gender identity.

 

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