Bringing gender neutrality into the Mx in the workplace

Bringing gender neutrality into the Mx in the workplace
Aug 22

Christine van Zyl

Employee Experience

Gender inclusion starts with a mindset reset

Not many of us are old enough to remember this, but if your tailor were a woman back in the day, you’d call her a seamstress. Jane Eyre would’ve been written by authoress Charlotte Bronte. I Love Lucy would’ve been a sitcom starring comedienne Lucille Ball.

Today, you’d raise an eyebrow at those designations and with good reason – they’re unnecessarily gendered job titles. Sexist, even. But why do we still have actresses, sisters and midwives with no one batting an eyelid?

The truth is, while we’ve come far, there’s still a way to go. We’ve made some progress regarding gender parity and equality in workspaces. However, women still get paid less than men, employers actively filter out women from certain jobs, and non-binary people are wholly unaddressed.

We won’t pretend to have the magical solution to gender inequity in the workplace – we’re just marketers. But, because we’re marketers, we know all too well the power that language has to change minds and shift paradigms. So instead, we’ll make a case for why gender neutrality in the workplace is the way of the future.

The problem with gendering jobs

In 2019, Facebook was called out for job adverts that discriminated based on gender on its platform. A study by researchers at the University of Southern California found that, despite Facebook not allowing advertisers to target job posts based on gender, its algorithm still mysteriously served different job ads to men and women. Employment discrimination on the basis of gender is illegal in the US (and many other countries, including South Africa), and Facebook has since committed to rectifying the problem in its algorithm.

Beyond Facebook, gender-coded job specs still exist. These are technically not illegal since they are visible to everyone, but they still use language that makes it clear who they want to hire. They often feature phrasing such as “competitive” or “strong leader” when indicating a preference for men and “supportive” or “interpersonal skills” for women. According to Harvard, these job descriptions with masculine wording are not appealing to women.

When you gender jobs, you contribute to harmful stereotypes and the idea that some jobs are reserved for a particular gender. This makes it nearly impossible for people outside of the binary to gain employment in welcoming workplaces, keeps women in entry and mid-level positions while men hold executive roles, and brings us no closer to pay parity. It also means that your organisation's makeup might not reflect its customers' diversity, which can lead to out-of-touch decision-making.

Building a gender-inclusive work environment

Creating an inclusive work environment through gender neutrality can seem daunting, especially for organisations that are entrenched in their ways. However, it’s more than doable and we have some helpful tips for you to try.

1. Educate yourself and your staff

We can’t reasonably expect people to go from one way of thinking to another overnight. We have to lead with consistent education that goes back to the basics. Gender is a complex subject, but there are readily available resources for you to leverage. We’re huge fans of the Genderbread Person – a teaching tool that simplifies and differentiates between the concepts of biological sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual and romantic attraction.

2. Think beyond the binary

Today, people’s gender expression extends beyond the binary of male and female. There are non-binary, gender non-conforming, agender and genderfluid (to name a few) people in the workforce and you can’t tell just by looking at them. So, it’s best to stick to they/them pronouns if you don’t know a person’s gender – but also make an effort to ask how they prefer to be addressed. People who identify as neither male nor female also prefer the title Mx (pronounced “mix”) as opposed to Mr, Ms or Mrs.

3. Remove gendered terms from your vocabulary

So much of the language we use at work comes from a male worldview and you might not have stopped to think about how exclusionary it can be. Terms like “manpower”, “man-made”, “manning the front desk” and “manhole” centre men as the default when they can be easily replaced with neutral alternatives such as “labour”, “human-made”, “working the front desk” and “maintenance hole”.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander… is good for business

You shouldn’t be surprised that there are strong benefits to employing gender neutrality, and fostering a more inclusive workplace. As the public consciousness shifts towards embracing gender diversity, they will expect the same from their employers and the brands they support.

Here’s what you can expect:

A bigger talent pool

When you don’t skew your language toward a particular gender, you automatically cast a wider net, and you stand a better chance of finding top talent. No one will find your job specs unappealing if there is no trace of gender coding in the description.

A staff that reflects your customers

Unless you sell products deliberately marketed to a gender niche, your customers probably reflect the full spectrum of gender. If your staff reflects your customers, you can easily tune into their perspectives and turn insights from different walks of life into impactful business decisions.

Better staff retention

If your employees feel welcome and respected by your company through something as simple as dropping male-centric language and honouring their preferred titles and pronouns, they’re more likely to attain job satisfaction and stick around.

Improved collaboration and productivity

Language has the power to bridge interpersonal gaps and promote strong bonds. If no one is triggered or excluded through everyday communication, everyone can bring their best selves to their jobs – which can only mean good things for your bottom line. By the way, McKinsey reports that the most gender-diverse companies are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability.

Once you’ve perfected gender-neutral language within your organisation, you might want to think about how to be more inclusive in your marketing to your customers. For that, we have an excellent starter guide for you to kick-start your journey. Download it for free below.

Start your inclusive language journey

Download our starter guide.

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