The issue of sustainability also extends to social aspects such as gender equality. In marketing, we can achieve this with gender-inclusive communication, among other things. Read on to find out what you need to consider in the B2B sector.
Gender-inclusive communication: Definition
Advocates of gender-inclusive or gender-conscious language point out that defaulting to the male form when referring to people does not represent gender diversity. In other words, it does not take women and those who identify with other genders into account to a sufficient degree.
Gender-inclusive language seeks to remedy that by ensuring that everyone uses language in a more conscious way. Luckily, English doesn’t really have a grammatical gender in the same way that many other languages do. It doesn’t have a masculine or a feminine for nouns, with the exception of words like woman, boy, and so on. As such, gendered language is commonly understood as language that has a bias towards a particular sex or social gender. This would include using gender-specific terms referring to professions or people, such as ‘businessman’ or ‘stewardess’, or using masculine pronouns (he, him, his) to refer to people in general, such as ‘a doctor should know how to communicate with his patients’.
When writing about people in general, Oxford University advises using non-gendered language such as ‘the employee’, ‘they’ and ‘their’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’. This style is increasingly being adopted in written documents across the UK, but it can carry across to the spoken word, too. In everyday usage, it usually has a bearing on the way in which people are referred to or addressed. When talking about a person in terms of ‘one’, or someone they don’t know well, people are increasingly opting for ‘they’. This is logical, since we tend to say it anyway if we don’t know the gender of someone we’re talking about. Read more about gender-inclusive language below.
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Gender-inclusive language in B2B customer communication: state of play
Gender-inclusive language is the topic of some discussion in the UK, with opinions broadly in favour. However, it is not always practised as much as it could be. A recent Instaprint study that surveyed 2,000 UK workers and analysed vacancy data from Adzuna found that the majority (96%) of job adverts at FTSE 100 companies use gender-biased language despite over half (56%) of employees believing their company has a gender-neutral approach to staffing. The data also showed that it was more common for individuals to believe their workplace is male-oriented (16%) than female-oriented (9%).
In response to the survey, Paul Modley, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Alexander Mann Solutions, commented that “the language used in any communications has an impact on how individuals engage. The issue is relevant for a range of demographics: Gen Z will respond differently to messages aimed at Millennials.” Generally speaking, views on gender roles and gender-inclusive language have become less traditional over the past three decades, including among the older generations.
Arguments in favour of gender-inclusive language, and arguments against
B2B companies face a difficult task in view of the huge disparity of attitudes towards this issue. After all, this range of opinions is likely to be reflected by their business partners. As such, companies should focus on gender-inclusive communication. By making the decision to do this, they are sending a message that they are aware of people from outside their own environment.
A gender-inclusive job posting may well have increased appeal for young professionals. On the other hand, rather conservative B2B customers are likely to be more averse to gender-inclusive language.
Ultimately, the attitude of the respective target group will determine whether it makes sense to adjust your marketing strategy accordingly. In other words, it is therefore not primarily a question of the company’s own attitude and self-image. Instead, it comes down to the fact that if the company stands up for gender equality and diversity both internally and publicly, but does not follow through in its own communication, this soon raises doubts as to its credibility.
To prevent this, companies should position themselves clearly and consistently on this issue, both internally and externally. Explaining the reasons behind the decision in a transparent way is vital, both for the company’s own employees and in external communications.
Using gender-inclusive language correctly
One criticism often levelled at gender-inclusive communication is that it can supposedly lead to a cumbersome or awkward style of language. When it comes to pronouns, some argue that ‘they’ is grammatically incorrect. However, we often use ‘they’ unconsciously to refer to someone whose gender is unknown. And there’s a very good reason for that – the singular ‘they’ has been part of English for centuries.
When it comes to writing a letter or email, it’s better to opt for ‘To whom it may concern’ or ‘Dear customer’, rather than formulations like ‘Dear Sir’. Companies should supplement the rollout of gender-inclusive communication with a number of supporting measures. This helps involve the workforce in the process and persuade them of the benefits. The process should be carried out in line with consistent and binding rules, without detriment to the comprehensibility of the content. The rollout should occur across the entire company on a specific date.