Why gender-sensitive language can be crucial for business success

Author: Carlotta Wackwitz

A guide to gender inclusive language was developed three years ago as a joint initiative between IBM and IBM iX. This year, the IBM iX Diversity & Inclusion focus group has updated the guide to reflect current needs, as language is dynamic and constantly changing. The guidelines are an action plan that we can all use to create inclusive corporate communications and business.

The debate about gender-neutral language is polarised worldwide: for some, it has long been part of daily life – for others, it is a sign of the decline of the German language. Looking back in history, Anglicisms started sparking similar debates in the 1980s. Even before that, the German language was strongly oriented towards the leading culture of the Baroque period, and later towards the French, and adopted many words from their respective vocabularies. Whether in the 16th or 21st century, the discussion of neologism in language use is not a new phenomenon.

Research shows, that using gender-inclusive language can be a critical step in overcoming these challenges and fostering innovation and creativity. According to a 2021 study by Capgemini, 90% of global companies struggle to implement diversity and inclusion within their teams. However, the study also shows that the critical success factor for an inclusive technology industry is diverse and inclusive teams. This requires creating a safe atmosphere where everyone is seen and valued.

Gender-sensitive language as a tool for paradigm-shifting

Becoming aware of the words we use and the impact they have is the basic idea behind gendering. For a long time, the generic masculine has been uncritically adopted as the default pronoun for people’s descriptions, helping to make women and non-binary people linguistically invisible. Language is a powerful tool that shapes our perceptions of people and can influence how we interact with each other. The use of gender-inclusive language demonstrates that every person, regardless of their gender or identity, is valued, respected and visible. It creates a culture of equality and inclusion that is open and accessible to all.

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A clear position on gender-sensitive language shows awareness of social trends, acts as a tool for paradigm shift and makes companies significantly more attractive to employees, customers, and partners.

Generation change – Gen Z sets standards

Against the backdrop of generational change in the workplace, the focus on gender-sensitive language and diversity and inclusion efforts are also of great importance. As the age structure of companies continues to age, the younger generation is increasingly becoming the main force in the labour market. “Generation Z” (born in the late 1990s to early 2010s) is known for its social awareness and values, which play a crucial role in their choice of employer. They prefer companies that actively promote social justice, inclusion and sustainability. This is also influencing the technology industry, which is increasingly recognising that diversity management and gender-sensitive language are important success factors. By positioning themselves clearly and using gender-sensitive language, companies signal their sensitivity to social trends and values.

4 reasons to adopt a diversity strategy

  1. Customer loyalty and reputation: In an era where corporate social responsibility plays an increasingly essential role in purchasing decisions, customers often have a preference for companies which are committed to diversity issues.
  2. Employee retention and recruiting: For many employees, an inclusive culture is a key factor in choosing an employer. The Ifo online survey of 554 hiring managers conducted by Indeed and Glassdoor confirms that a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) strategy can make a significant contribution to success: 43% of companies with a D&I strategy were able to fill vacancies within 2 months – only 32% of companies without a D&I strategy were able to do so.

3. Innovation and creativity: Listening to and respecting diverse voices and perspectives creates a creative breeding ground for new ideas and innovative solutions. At the same time, in an inclusive work environment, employees feel encouraged to express their full creativity, knowing that their contributions are valued.

4. Image and business opportunities: Companies that promote diversity and inclusion maintain a positive image and reputation. This can have a positive impact on the reputation of the B2B partnership and increase the confidence of customers and business partners. It also opens up access to new markets and target groups, which can be reached through the targeted use of gender-sensitive language and the promotion of inclusion. A study in the International Journal of Business Performance Management (2022) even confirms the direct link between companies with a Diversity strategy and increased turnover.

The role of technology companies in promoting diversity

The technology industry is at the heart of digital transformation and plays a key role in shaping the future. Its ability to innovate and create new products and services has a major impact on people’s lives and society as a whole. By consciously using gender-sensitive language and fostering an inclusive culture, technology companies not only contribute to their business success but also play an important social role. It is their responsibility to seize this opportunity and create lasting change that promotes diversity and inclusion across the industry.

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Author’s note:

Gender-neutral language has been used for the most part in this text. This is done to ensure an inclusive approach and to appeal to people of all gendered identities. However, for the sake of readability and comprehension, a specific gender has been used in some cases. The aim is to make the text flow smoother without losing the intended message. All gendered terms used are to be understood as inclusive.

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