In today’s modern business climate it is essential to avoid discriminatory or sexist language. In our book Write Now: Business Writing That Gets Results, one tip Craig and I give for being professional and projecting the right tone in your business writing is avoiding sexist language (p. 84).
For example, when writing a business letter, you should use “To whom it may concern,” or “Dear Sir/Madam,” when you don’t know the reader’s gender. Other words to use:
“executive” instead of businessman
“chairperson” instead of chairman
“humankind” instead of mankind
“salesperson” instead of salesmen
“spokesperson” instead of spokesman.
Be careful of the pronouns you use
We also point out in our book that knowing who your audience is will help you determine the tone and level of formality of your writing. It will also help you correct any biases you may have. For example, as I am a man I may expect all my readers are male as well. Therefore in writing a letter, I may use only the words “Dear Sir.”
This, however, is not correct since English grammar gives us masculine and feminine pronouns. It’s best to mix and match throughout your writing or use the plural form to stay fresh and avoid gender bias or sexist language.
For example, instead of saying “Each executive made his own travel plans,” say instead “Executives made their own travel plans.”
Note that The Business Style Handbook, which contains a useful collection of writing guidelines from a to z, recommends not using the awkward expression s/he that some business writers use.
More examples of sexist language
Here is a short list of sexist expressions. Can you match the gender-neutral word that should be used in its place?
1. craftsman a. Ms.
2. handyman b. flight attendant
3. man-to-man c. leader
4. Miss d. reporter
5. publicity man e. loyal employee
6. newspaperman f. principal
7. statesman g. face-to-face
8. stewardess h. maintenance person
9. headmaster i. publicist
10. organization man j. artisan
1. j, 2. h, 3. g, 4. a, 5. i, 6. d, 7. c, 8. b, 9. f, 10. e.