One may argue that nearly everything has been made gender-specific. Electric cars, invented in the early 20th century, were originally marketed to women. Grills and trucks are commonly marketed to men. Even razors are marketed to women and men separately---despite being the exact product. However the society (and the workforce) is evolving to more gender-neutral products, language, and company cultures. A pre-employment assessment can’t be used to help employers become gender neutral...or can they?
Past generations are more comfortable with stereotypical roles that are played out on TV, board game covers, and in magazine advertisements. They’re so familiar, we hardly think twice about seeing cleaning ads for women and car ads for men.
What does gender-neutral and/or gender-inclusive mean?
According to a definition by the UN, gender-neutral and gender-inclusive language means:
1. A language that places all genders at the same level
2. A way of communication that does not discriminate against a particular sex or gender identity, and does not perpetuate gender stereotypes
"Why do people use gender-neutral pronouns? Is there anything wrong with gendered pronouns?"
One explanation comes from Nick Adams, director of GLAAD’s transgender media program. There’s nothing wrong with using gendered pronouns; it’s a functioning way of language we’ve inherited and many people use. “However the pronouns “he” and “she” often come with a set of expectations and a person’s identity”. For example, the word “nurse” is not a gendered pronoun, but it often carries the expectation of a female working in that role. Using gender-neutral pronouns is just one way to shed expectation and focus on the person. For some “he” or “she” can feel limiting to their identity.
With this attitude shifting in greater society, this is affecting the workplace.
Millennials drove the cultural shift of gender fluidity. One Fusion poll found 50% of millennials believe gender is a spectrum and accept “some people fall outside of conventional categories. Generation Z, ranging from teenagers to early 20s, experience a dichotomy between how marketers talk to them and how they actually experience the world. According to JWT Inteligence Group’s Innovation Group, 81% of Gen Z strongly believes gender does not define a person as much as it did in the past.
What does this mean for employer branding?
Well, quite a lot if you’re aiming to recruit and retain.
In the hiring and recruitment process, a company focuses on attracting and developing the best talent. Creating a talent pipeline that integrates upcoming talent with in-house experts is the ideal. Additionally, the workforce is meant to reflect a diverse society. The cultural shift towards gender-neutral language, marketing, and pop culture icons is here to stay.
It already affects how products are bought and sold. One research group found that 44% of Gen Zers agreed to “I always buy products that are geared specifically toward my own gender…”. 54% of Millennials only shop from gender-specific clothing shops. Using gender-neutral pronouns like “ze” is becoming commonplace, with 56% of Gen Z integrating this into their vocabulary.
Gender-neutrality represents a deflection point that hiring teams must address when recruiting and developing talent.
“So, what kind of language do we use?”
Language makes a difference
To prepare for incoming talent and new customer acquisition, marketing experts, Dali Tembo and Jess Jorgensen of Grass International Speakers suggest a few words to create gender-neutral job advertisements, interview process, pre-employment assessment, and other areas within talent acquisition.
Instead of using “mailman” use “mail carrier”. Or rather than say“manpower” say “workforce” or “human effort”. Or if writing a job description or conducting a pre-employment assessment, use the pronoun “they” instead of “he” or “she”.
Additionally, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask a person what they use to refer to themselves. At the beginning of an in-person or video interview, an interviewer can politely ask, “What are your preferred gender pronouns?” This shows potential candidates you’re sensitive to who they are as people. Building a positive employer branding is all in the details. Awareness around gender-inclusivity is a meaningful detail. To candidates or customers who may not identify with being a man or a woman, this builds trust.
Big retailers, like Mattel and Target, understand undertaking these issues builds loyalty. It’s changing how they approach applicants and customers. Target no longer has blue and pink aisles in their toy section. One Barbie ad featured a boy playing with a Barbie doll, rather than a girl.
Since this is an important issue, how can we begin change?
First, ask yourself and your team these questions when designing your hiring process:
-In what ways are we reinforcing gender stereotypes?
-What is considered “normal” by our industry? What is considered “normal” in our teams?
-Does our overall company brand suggest or openly communicate these old gender stereotypes?
-Does our brand image depend on old gender stereotypes? Why?
-In what ways can we begin to be inclusive to others on the gender spectrum?
-By changing our recruitment processes, how can we better serve the ones we previously did not serve?
-By changing our in-house diversity and talent development process, how can better serve our employees?
-What non gender-inclusive language do we have in our marketing materials, on our website, pre-employment assessment, or in company meetings?
-Have we addressed gender-inclusivity and gender-neutral language with our employees? If not, how can we?
Gender-neutral hiring and recruitment practices are only effective when it comes from a place of authenticity. You may want to reflect for a moment and ask yourself (and maybe do further research) about how you can see this as an opportunity to attract and retain talent. Do you believe in being a more inclusive hiring process?
Gender-neutral as framework is quickly gaining ground. It’s a topic in children’s books to form gender-inclusive schools. Gender neutrality is a new paradigm in the lives of applicants and talent. For companies, thriving in the future means taking action now to reflect the diverse needs of the workforce.
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