Language plays a key role in shaping cultural and social attitudes. Adopting gender-inclusive language is a meaningful way to promote gender equality, avoid gender stereotypes and fight gender bias. Misgendering a person is disrespectful and dismissive. When working, teaching and studying at Goethe-University, the best practice is to always use words with intention and care. The following examples can help to convey gender equality and inclusiveness in spoken language and written text.
Notes on using non-discriminatory language
- If a person makes you aware that certain words or phrases are hurtful or perceived as discriminatory, take it seriously and avoid using these expressions.
- If you are told how a person self-identifies and wishes to be addressed, try to use their preferred name and pronouns.
When using the English language, you may have noticed many nouns ending with a -man, even when all genders are meant. Instead, try to use neutral alternatives:
- Instead of “men” or “mankind” prefer “people”, “humanity”, “human beings”, or “we”
- Instead of “chairman” prefer “chair”, “chairperson”, or “head”
- Instead of “freshman student” prefer “first-year student”
Modifications, plural and passive voice
- Instead of “Each professor should send one of his assistants to the conference.”
- Prefer “Each professor should send one assistant to the conference.”Instead of “Each student must present his ID badge.”
- Prefer “All students must present their ID badges.”
- Instead of “The student must submit his assignment by Monday.” Prefer “Assignments must be submitted by Monday.”
Forms of address
It is always advisable to address someone by their first and surnames instead of “Dear Sir”/ “Dear Madam”. When addressing a group, specifying the recipients is an easy alternative to “Dear Ladies and Gentlemen”. In formal contexts, the following phrases are recommended:
- Dear Professor …NAME…
- Dear Students
- Dear Colleagues / Dear Professors
More casual contexts allow for neutral phrases, such as:
- Hello, FIRST and SURNAME
- Good Morning, FIRST and SURNAME
There are various pronouns besides “he” or “she”, which differ according to individual preferences. You can signal openness and sensitivity by adding one of the following statements to your e-mail signature:
“My pronoun is ‘she/her’. By sharing your preferred pronoun, you can help me and others to address you accordingly.”
“NAME [Pronoun she/her]”
“Please don’t hesitate to contact me regarding the gender inclusiveness of our correspondence.”
People, who identify as non-binary, can include the following sentence in their signature:
- “Please refrain from using gendered pronouns when corresponding with me. Gender neutral expressions that are recommended are “Hello NAME”. Please use the pronoun ‘Enby’. If you should have questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you!”
Two variations meet the current standards of gender inclusiveness:
- A gender-neutral design without gendered titles (i.e. ‘male’ / ‘female’ and ‘Sir’ / ‘Madam’ are omitted)
- A gender-inclusive design with several options (i.e. ‘male’, ‘female’ and a blank field, allowing individuals to write-in their preferred pronoun(s)).