Gender

Date adopted: 
December 11, 2019
Last update: 
August 28, 2020

Gender-neutral text

Part of writing inclusively is making sure text is gender neutral wherever possible.

He and she

Not: he/she, his or her
But: they, their

Names

Not: Christian name
But: first name

Not: surname
But: last name

Sexual identity

LGBTQ2S (based on the Government of Canada’s style)

References:

Objects

Use “it” rather than “she” or “her” to describe ships, nature, nations, cars, engines, gas tanks and so on.

Parallel treatment

Avoid highlighting gender and ethnicity if it’s not relevant.

Have you avoided unnecessary descriptions?
Not: Aboriginal woman Minister of Justice Jane Doe tabled a bill.
But: Minister of Justice Jane Doe tabled a bill.

Use gender neutral words.
Not: actress, fireman, businessman, spokesman, chairman
But: actor, firefighter, businessperson, spokesperson, chair
Not: man a booth
But: staff a booth

The word “ombudsman” is an exception and is accepted by many people as being gender neutral.

The word “grandfathering” is also not a word that can be simply switched for a gender neutral term (“grandparenting”). It has a complicated story with roots in the history of voting rights for people in the US who were formerly slaves.

Tips to help you avoid describing people differently because of their gender or ethnicity.

  • When you don’t know who you’re addressing or don’t know someone’s preferred pronoun or self-identification, use “they” or their job title or role, such as manager, councillor, director, committee member, home owner, parent, reader, teacher, delegate, participant.
  • If you’re using a title (honorific), use Ms. when referring to a woman unless she has indicated a preference for Mrs. or Miss.
  • To check for descriptions that may be sexist, try substituting a man for a woman in the situation or role.
  • Avoid hidden sexism or words that have been traditionally used only to describe specific genders, such as the word “shrill” to describe a woman’s voice rather a man’s, or the phrase “working mom” rather than “working parent.”
  • Beware of stereotypes, such as assuming child care is only delivered by women. This applies to choosing images as well as words.