Gender inclusive language
best practice guidance
The Law Society of NSW is committed to the advancement of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Gender equality, recognition and respect for gender self-identification helps to make people feel included, which contributes a greater sense of belonging in a workplace.
The Law Society’s Diversity and Inclusion In The Legal Profession: The Business Case outlines how organisations that value diversity and have a culture of inclusion are able to recruit and retain high performing staff, improve productivity and performance and increase organisational competitiveness and growth.
We suggest using gender neutral language to avoid unintentionally misgendering someone in circumstances where gender is unclear or unknown.
Where the gender identity of the addressee(s) is known, use language consistent with the addressee(s)’s preferences. Where gender is irrelevant to the substance of the communication, consider removing unnecessary gender references altogether.
Some strategies to integrate gender-neutral language where gender is unknown or irrelevant include:
- Adopting gender-neutral terms of address: e.g. “Dear Applicant” rather than “Dear Sir / Madam”
- Using a professional title: e.g. “Professor Patel” or “Doctor Patel” rather than “Ms Patel”
- Using a person’s full name: e.g. “Steven Lim” rather than “Mr Lim” or using initials in the place of first names: e.g. “Jacinda Ardern” becomes “J Ardern”
- Referring to a profession or occupation in its gender-neutral form: e.g. “Chairperson” (rather than “Chairman); “Executive officer” (rather than “Businessman”); “Waiter” (rather than “Waiter” and “Waitress”)
- Replacing binary pronouns with “they” (singular): e.g. “if he or she sees fit” becomes “if they see fit”
- Repeating the subject noun: e.g. “The shareholder must exercise the shareholder’s option immediately”
- Eliminating the pronoun: e.g. “If of the opinion that it’s inappropriate, the President will veto the change”
- Replacing the pronoun with a definite or indefinite article (‘a’ or ‘the’): e.g. “A trustee who abuses the authority of the position…” rather than “A trustee who abuses the authority of his position...”
- Replacing the possessive pronoun with a verb: e.g. “A lawyer who undertakes…” rather than “A lawyer who gives his undertaking…”
If unsure of the appropriate or preferred term of address for another person, it is best to confirm with the person directly in a respectful and non-confrontational manner. While assumptions or errors may be made on occasion, if/when corrected by the addressee, it is important to make all reasonable endeavours to use language consistent with their identified preferences.
In order to normalise gender non-conformity and facilitate active gender self-identification, it can be helpful to outline preferred pronouns in email signatures or LinkedIn and other professional profiles. For instance, “Tom Smith (he/him)”, or “Nina Ricci (she/her)”, or “Alexa Woods (they/them)”.