Gendered Communication and Gender-Sensitive Language

Gendered Communication

What is gendered communication? The way that people in power speak about everyday tasks and life has a direct impact on the inclusion of all people responding to it.  Have you ever felt excluded based solely on your gender stereotypes?  For many people in traditionally male-dominated fields, this can be the case quite often, even though they are more than qualified to be a part of an organization or business.  There are a variety of ways this can happen, from exclusion from certain out-of-work activities based on gender differences, to the availability of proper facilities and care products, and even to the way that people speak in the office.  Being treated as though they are an inconvenience or afterthought can decrease productivity and directly impact well-being.  This article will outline the idea of gendered communication, highlight some examples of how it is often used, explain what gender-sensitive language is, and highlight tips on how to improve the use of gender-sensitive language to ensure that all people feel included at work and beyond.

Gendered Communication Explained:

Gendered communication is the use of words, phrases, ideas, or tone that indicates it is reserved for someone of a specific gender, even if that is not the case.  Additionally, it can include the exclusion of certain topics because it is assumed that the recipient would not understand based on their gender.  Examples of gendered communication include calling a group that includes all genders “boys” or making it known to refrain from sports metaphors because “the girls won’t understand it.”  The core of gendered communication is that it relies on outdated and false information about interpersonal relationships and what each gender likes and how they communicate.  When gendered communication is used intentionally, it can create a hostile environment and indicates to anyone on the receiving end that the excluded gender is not welcome within a group or workplace.  When it is used unintentionally, it can indicate unchecked bias or prejudice in a person and can create uneasiness.  Gendered communication can divide workplaces and groups of friends while excluding a whole group which is vital for the team to work based on gender differences.

Traditional Differences Between Genders in Communication:

To better understand how gendered communication may come up within a workplace or other groups, it can be helpful to examine ways that men and women are traditionally expected to communicate.  Many studies have found that these assumptions are not true, but most gendered language will rely on these assumptions to exclude people of other genders.  The common difference in communication that gendered communication is based on include:

  • Emotions: One of the most commonly cited or assumed differences between communication and gender is based on the amount of emotion included in the communication.  It is assumed that men tend to communicate with less emotion and women communicate with more. In reality, it is very difficult to communicate without expressing some form of emotion and have the communication be received well.  Additionally, this assigns particular emotions to specific genders and does not respond well when those lines are crossed.
  • Comfort v. Development: Another common distinction that some will align with gender is the idea of communication as comfort versus communication as development.  Communication as comfort will seek to help others avoid and relieve their emotional distress.  On the other hand, communication for development means that a person will respond to emotional distress in ways that praise past accomplishments and distracts with further striving. The assumption is that men will often try and fix the issue instead of addressing the emotion being expressed, and women will address the emotion without providing steps to move forward.
  • Use of Nonverbal Communication: Another common assumption is the use of nonverbal cues to communicate.  Women tend to use their faces and body language to communicate to the same degree if not more than with the actual words that they say.  Men tend to rely more heavily on their words, but they will occasionally use their bodies to take up space, especially when communicating with other genders.  This difference seems to be more commonly accepted, but it also demonstrates how any gender can use gendered language to create a division.

It is clear that these differences are generalized examples and are not true much of the time, but noticing these differences, along with others, can help identify and understand gendered language and encourage positive changes.

Gender-Sensitive Language Explained:

Gender-sensitive language is language and gender communication that is inclusive of all genders and seeks to use communication to expand, rather than restrict, the circle around a person.  This does not just mean using gender-neutral pronouns or group nouns, but it can also include communicating in specific ways and with a sense of empathy to encourage more robust involvement.  Additionally, working on a team that uses gender-sensitive language includes holding people of any gender identity to the same standards of communication and not judging one gender for using communication styles that are deemed acceptable by other genders.  Using gender-sensitive language can feel like a lot of work, but it does wonders to help increase the equality of all genders and helps recognize that communication holds weight and can affect the mental and physical safety of others around them.

Tips for Improving your Use of Gender-Sensitive Language:

If you are hoping to expand and encourage your use of gender-sensitive language or if you have a position where you can encourage gender-sensitive language, the following ideas may help expand your use and encourage further inclusion.

  • Standards: Especially if you are in a position to set standards for a group of people, it can be helpful to set clear standards for how communication should go. This helps people feel like they can be direct without it being nervous about the reaction, but it also ensures that other people do not feel emboldened to overwhelm the conversation.
  • Empathy: One of the most impactful ways to practice gender-sensitive communication styles is to practice empathy first.  When communicating out of empathy toward another first, the outcome and tone of the conversation will likely shift to collaborative, even in the tensest of situations.
  • Learn: There is always room for improvement in gender-sensitive language, and a commitment to consistently learn and adapt to changes in the way we use language which makes the way that we speak more inclusive.

Using gender-sensitive language will open up many possibilities for inclusion and belonging within a team or group.  Finding new ways to encourage openness and acceptance can enrich and encourage a team to bond and succeed regardless of gender.