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Gender in Language
Back in the old days (when I was in high school and dinosaurs roamed the Earth), we were taught that “he” was the default third-person singular, and terms like “mankind” meant both men and women.
In college, though, I first heard the sentence that changed that assumption for me forever.
“Man, like other mammals, nurses his young.”
Yeah, that made it clear that, when we hear a clearly gendered word like “man,” our first thought is of an adult cis-male.
As leaders, we need to make sure that all of our people feel included and respected on our team. That means using non-gendered terms like “humanity” instead of “mankind.” That means recognizing and respecting people’s gender identity (which can be something other than the traditional binary choice of male or female) and using their pronouns properly.
If you are old enough to remember unkinking the phone cord as you talked on your landline or tightening a cassette tape with a pencil, this might involve unlearning some old habits and developing some new ones. But even the most traditional old-schoolers have been able to adapt to the identity changes of others: “Miss Evans” became “Mrs. Jones,” and they changed how they referred to her.
Check the sig lines of the other person’s email—many people list their preferred pronouns there, to make it easier for other people to get it right. Avoid derogatory use of gender in conversation— “You were playing like a bunch of girls!” should only be used as a compliment, not an insult. If you say it as an insult to someone’s masculinity, you are doing it wrong. Don’t do that.
When we use the person’s preferred pronouns, it’s like calling them by the right name, rather than something like: “I forget your name, so I’m just going to call you Judy. Judy, go get me some coffee.” Using the person’s preferred pronouns makes them feel respected, included, and builds morale, and that enhances your leadership in the group.