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Addressing the issue of addressing everyone: gender-sensitive corporate communication today

Gender appropriate language is important for your company reputation. SwissGlobal helps you to reach your target audience through gender appropriate communication.

From actress to actor – the end of the generic use of the masculine form

Unlike other gender-heavy languages, English does not have as many gender-specific professional titles. And of those that used to, most have been transformed into gender-neutral names. A fireman or firewoman is now a firefighter, a policeman or policewoman is a police officer. Actors and actresses are now known collectively as actors. Chefs, doctors, teachers, etc., were never a problem in the first place. But what happens when you begin using pronouns? You guessed it. Addressing an entire target group as “he” can lead to potential customers feeling left out.

The generic masculine form, which “includes” the other genders as well, has the advantage of being familiar. You do not have to stop and think about what you are going to say or wonder if everyone really feels addressed. And anyway, these things were never an issue in the past, right? That may well be, but only because in the past men were viewed as the norm and women were a deviation from that norm – albeit a necessary one. After all, Eve was made from Adam’s rib to be “a helpmeet for him”. Enough said.

This view has now changed of course. The world is no longer divided into men as measure of all things and non-men, but made up of individuals with different genders, among other things.

Diese Anschauung hat sich natürlich inzwischen geändert. Die Welt ist nicht mehr unterteilt in Männer als Mass aller Dinge und Nicht-Männer, sondern besteht aus Individuen, die u. a. unterschiedliche Geschlechter haben.

A question of visibility

As the largest affected group, women were the first to succeed in no longer defining themselves outwardly by the masculine norm. This ushered in concrete changes in society, and these changes manifested themselves not only socially but also linguistically.

This also had indirect consequences. Since women can now be made visible in language, questions are raised when this does not happen. If companies use forms of address or pronouns excluding the feminine gender, you will automatically ask yourself if any women actually work there, or if a letter from the management is meant for male employees only.

Therefore, if you want to reach more than just some of your target group, you must make it clear that you are addressing the group in its entirety. Anything else can lead to misunderstandings.

Furthermore, the way in which you address your target audience also has an effect on your corporate image. If you want to convey an image of your company communicating with its target audience on equal footing, showing interest in its customers and their requirements, being in tune with social movements and also forward-looking, then the use of gender-sensitive language is absolutely indispensable. This language is inclusive by differentiating. It embraces everyone because it addresses everyone.

Differentiation and comprehensibility

The need for language that encompasses all genders equally is now widely recognised in society and promoted by many countries’ governments. However, a common complaint regarding gender-sensitive language usage is that it makes texts unnecessarily awkward and even unreadable. But a closer look reveals that this is not an inevitable outcome.

When it comes to the gender of the people involved, different approaches are available to ensuring everyone feels included without creating clunky, hard-to-read sentences full of “she/he”, “his or hers”, or “him or her” constructions. For example, the use of “they, their, them” in the singular instead of “he, his, him, she, hers, her” is becoming more and more accepted, especially in tandem with nouns such as anyone, everyone, someone, etc. A sample sentence would read as follows: “A new employee should do their best to integrate into the team as quickly as possible.” But tweaking the sentence when feasible to refer to the subject in the plural would make it even easier to read: “New employees should do their best to integrate into the team as quickly as possible.”

This approach is also ideal for including those who consider themselves part of the gender spectrum. If a company wants to position itself as keeping pace with the times, it can hardly ignore this non-binary segment of the population and must include it in its own communication. More often than not you will find there is no problem implementing inclusive language. Things usually become complicated when you simply try to replace the generic masculine with another, inclusive gender title. Gender-sensitive writing is therefore also a chance to rethink existing conventions and take a new look at what you actually want to say. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the final version of all your communication needs to be as clear and precise as possible. Otherwise, your message risks becoming lost in your eagerness to be as all-inclusive as you can. Review what it is you want to say and decide if including specific references to gender is actually necessary or not.

Professional language service providers – ensuring your communication addresses everyone

Today there are far more ways of reaching your target audience than was the case just a few years ago. But this also means far more creativity and ingenuity are now required to communicate effectively. In addition, the grammatical structures that result from inclusive language are often more complex than the simple generic masculine. Mastering them demands a high degree of linguistic expertise.

This issue also poses challenges when viewed from a terminological perspective. In order to keep your corporate terminology – still the core component of corporate communication – uniform, you need particularly consistent terminology management, among other things. It is very likely that when you first introduce inclusive communication, many ad hoc terms will be created, all of which must be added to the company’s general terminology, with their usage clearly defined and established.

This type of expertise is provided by SwissGlobal, whose specialists in the areas of translation, copywriting, transcreation, style guidelines, terminology and intercultural communication can design and create the type of communication that will actually reach all of your target audience. In addition to this expertise, we are absolutely convinced that open-mindedness is the fundamental prerequisite for successful development. This means that we, too, listen very carefully to what kinds of communication you want and then offer you services encompassing the entire scope of modern linguistic communication.

Interested? Contact us today.

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