Language is always in motion. That alone underlines the importance of regularly reviewing your communication. Does your choice of words and appearance still fit the current era? Social discussions influence language change and social media reinforces this. In short, there is a good chance that there are also people within your target group or clientele who do not feel comfortable with certain words or expressions.
Gender neutral, gender conscious, inclusive
It's really not strange when you raise an eyebrow in your mind at terms such as gender-sensitive or inclusive language. You hear about it, but exactly what it is and what the differences are… Most people are only really triggered when they have to deal with it in their direct (work) environment. Therefore – for those who want – first some terminology.
Gender neutral and gender sensitive are most often used. Gender neutral means that no distinction is made between men and women. It also means that certain social, behavioral, and identity aspects are not attributed to being male or female. If someone is non-binary, they feel neither male nor female. Most non-binary people therefore like it when you approach them with neutral terms of address and use other (referring) pronouns. Pronouns like those/them/them are examples of this. But beware, it might as well be that a non-binary person is using she/her/her or he/she/its, or a combination of these.
Gender neutrality can be applied in all kinds of communication, from addressing someone to lessons in education, from a vacancy to an email, website or quotation. What do experts in this field say? Jane Gorden of Taalcentrum-VU explains why in an article on Frankwatching:
“In the advice published by the Taalunie, we read that we should mainly focus on gender-aware and inclusive language use. Really gender neutral is not really possible. Formulating gender-consciously is not exactly easy, because Dutch grammar gets in the way. Moreover, male dominance is deeply rooted in the Dutch language.” (Source: Frankwatching)
Gender-sensitive language is used when you want to target all people in your target audience, which may or may not include non-binary people. You make as little distinction as possible between male and female. However, the Dutch language only knows the male or female form of address. However, there are a number of ways in which you can fine-tune your language use better.
You can also opt for inclusive language use. By communicating inclusively, you try not to exclude anyone. With inclusive language you write for everyone, regardless of someone's gender, country of origin, religion, age, sexual preference, health, physical or mental disability. You ensure that your message is relevant, understandable, recognizable and accessible to everyone. It ensures that you get to know your target audience better, broaden it or find a niche. You make a value of inclusivity and propagate this. You show what you stand for and that you want to make a positive contribution to a diverse society. People often think that inclusive language use is mainly used by governments, but inclusion is also gaining ground within the business community.
Create gender-sensitive proposals
Time for a quote, yes! You want to inspire and enthuse customers and prospects with your quotes. You don't want them to feel uncomfortable under any circumstances. You strive for good, sustainable collaborations based on mutual respect. This includes conscious communication. If you don't do this, your quote will miss its target.
Addressing customers and prospects in a gender-conscious way can be a challenge. It helps if you opt for gender-overarching names.
Gender-conscious grammar and alternatives
If you want to take non-binary persons into account and leave gender in the middle, you will soon get stuck with personal and/or possessive pronouns. You can then use gender-neutral pronouns such as 'them' and 'that' instead of 'he' and 'she'. 'Their' is most often used instead of her or his. For example: Where is Fenna? That's lunch. Or, Fenna is in his office.
You can also choose to address your customer or prospect directly as you or you and use your or your. For example: Where would you like your order delivered?
Another handy tip: make it into a group and/or use the plural form. The chance of exclusion is then much less. Instead of 'Outsourcing flight reservations will save your secretary a lot of time', write: Employees of your secretariat can focus on their core tasks again when you leave the flight reservations to us.
Gender-conscious and inclusive visuals
Of course, a quotation consists of more than just words. Powerful covers and beautiful visuals enhance the customer experience and support your offer. With visuals you can very well create a gender-conscious appearance and emphasize inclusivity.
Do you use stock photos? It takes some searching, but there are indeed inclusive images. Suppose you want to use a photo of an office. Then choose a photo with a diverse, inclusive reflection of society or, for example, just go for the interior.
Think carefully about your visuals. Use your creativity and steer clear of stereotyping and prejudice. Because, not every woman wants children and part-time work, not every man likes football and beer, non-binary people do not want to rebel against the gender they were assigned at birth, not everyone who is in a wheelchair is deaf (I don't make it up), and so on.
This blog is not meant to point fingers. It is intended to make people more aware of the language we use. It is good to be aware of the influence that language and images have on us. And vice versa. Where one finds something exaggerated, the other feels comfortable with or heard. As I said, language is always changing. Diversity and inclusion are slowly becoming the new normal. My advice? Take a closer look at your communication. Investigate how you can remain or become relevant to your target group and customers!