Does gender-inclusive language make a difference?

A new study shows some ways that it does:

Three studies assessed whether a common cultural practice, namely, the use of gender-exclusive language (e.g., using he to indicate he or she), is experienced as ostracism at the group level by women. Women responded to the use of gender-exclusive language (he) during a mock job interview with a lower sense of belonging, less motivation, and less expected identification with the job compared to others exposed to gender-inclusive (he or she) or gender-neutral ( one) language (Studies 1 and 2). Moreover, the more emotionally disengaged women became over the course of a job interview upon hearing gender-exclusive language, the less motivation and job identification they subsequently reported (Study 3). Together, these studies show that subtle linguistic cues that may seem trivial at face value can signal group-based ostracism and lead members of the ostracized group to self-select out of important professional environments.

Thanks, Laura!

9 thoughts on “Does gender-inclusive language make a difference?

  1. I just (today) interviewed a sociology professor in Amsterdam who told me that in Dutch, there’s no gendering of words used to describe good-looking people, unlike “handsome” and “pretty” in English. (Even “beautiful” is usually used for women, though we do use it for me.) And women (per her) in the Netherlands tend to experience less appearance-related pressure than they do in the States. She said she didn’t see a connection per se, and I don’t think that one is a direct result of the other–but I think that a country that is routinely toward the top of “best countries for women” lists probably inherently understands that the more you treat women differently, the more you pigeonhole us into fitting a certain standard.

  2. I’m living in Azerbaijan right now and have learned the local language. In Azeri, as in Turkish, there is no gender designation. He, she and it are all under one word, O. As a native English speaker I thought this might cause confusion when speaking about several people in a story and being unable to identify them through gendered pronouns. Now that I know the language with fair fluency, I can say that this is not the case. It’s also interesting to watch new speakers to English from Azeri to struggle with gendered pronouns, often using the wrong one in reference to men and women. They find the whole ordeal to be arbitrary the way native English speakers would think it silly to have additional pronouns to identify the age or race of a person.

  3. Xarici – I live and work in Turkey (and am a native English-speaker) and have also noticed this. But – at least where I work – there seems to be at least as much appearance-based pressure on female students as in other places i have lived and worked.

    (Turkish is also like Dutch in that – afaik – words for being good-looking aren’t gendered.)

  4. Yeah, Azerbaijani is extremely similar to Turkish. They watch Turkish television and I am able to understand it for the most part. You are right though about pressure on females in this culture (they consider themselves Turksih for the most part). Women in Azerbaijani are treated poorly, at best, and I can’t imagine that if they had gender-exclusive language it would be much different. However, if you were able to take this language, supplant it into a culture that values equal rights for women, and gave them a seminar using the single pronoun that represents both genders, females might feel as equally included as the males do.

    That’s quite a hypothetical though!

  5. Did they try having the interviewer interview a man, and the interviewer using she in the job description, and see how the male interviewee would react? How about zhe/hir?

  6. Could you please help me locate sources alluded to in this posting. In searching for this article on the web, I came across the names Jane Hirschfield and Leslie, but I cannot find anything that directs me Studies 1, 2 and 3.

    I am seeking this article as I am a female with an undergraduate degree in engineering who would like to raise this issue within my professional organization. My relevant is is that a professional organization that I volunteered with copied me on an email that instructed the webmaster to include titles for all of the individuals on the webpage, to add “Dr.” if they have a Ph.D., otherwise they should be “Mr.” Later on that day, I was a group recipient on an email from the same organization inviting me to a dinner and telling me that I could bring my wife.

    I am 57, so I have been bringing these issues up directly with males in the profession for 35 years and haven’t seen much change as a result of my actions. I decided to bring this up at the organizational level, and received an automated response which included a copy of their intake form, a portion shown below:

    Member Number :
    Is he a member : yes
    Problem Type : Other (please indicate problem below)
    Is he Subscribed : no

    I believe I could make a good case to the professional organization to change to gender-inclusive language if I could point to those studies.

  7. Hi, I would also like to locate these studies you mention. Can you give article citations please? I am interested in directing people to this information. :)

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