Avoid gender bias with clever language

Nur wenige englische Wörter haben ein grammatisches Geschlecht. Früher war es üblich, weibliche Formen von den männlichen abzuleiten. So wurde aus steward stewardess und aus actor actress. Solche Ableitungen gelten heutzutage als sexistisch.

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Years ago, most business writers used male pronouns when they were talking about people of mixed or undefined genders. Female pronouns were only used when only women were being referred to or in relation to traditional female roles, like that of the secretary. If you write that way today, you’ll be labelled as ´sexist´.

Here is a list of gender-neutral jobs to help you use politically correct language.

businessman manager, businessperson 
chairman chair, chairperson 
fireman firefighter 
manpower work force, personnel 
foreman supervisor 
policeman police officer 
salesman sales staff 
salesgirl shop assistant, sales assistant 
stewardess flight attendant

Another challenge is what to write when you don’t want to define the gender of the person or persons you are talking or writing about. Writing or saying ´he or she´ or ´him or her´ all the time can become cumbersome, especially in long passages. Some writers choose to alternate between male and female throughout a document. For example, in a medical text you might read, "If the patient is unconscious, put her in the recovery position," then, in the next section, "If the patient cannot breath properly, take his pulse". This is also sometimes jarring to readers.

There are two solutions

1. Use ´they´ or ´their´ with singular nouns

  • Will whoever left their car parked outside the office please move it?
  • If anyone phones while I’m out just tell them I’m not there and ask them what they want.

This may be ´grammatically wrong´, but it’s been in the English language for a long time. To prove my point, here are two examples written by Jane Austen:

  • "It had been a miserable party, each of the three believing themselves most miserable." (Emma)
  • "If we knew anybody we would join them directly." (Northanger Abbey)

If it’s good enough for Jane, it’s good enough für me!

2. If it’s practical, use plural nouns

Instead of writing

  • A trial lawyer must be careful what he says to the jury.


  • Trial lawyers must be careful what they say to the jury.
gender Geschlecht 
bias Vorurteile 
gender-neutral geschlechtsneutral 
cumbersome schwerfällig, lästig 
unconscious ohne Bewusstsein 
jarring anstrengend