Reflecting on gender-neutral language on International Pronouns Day (Oct 20, 2021)

Generic writing tips for pronouns from the Language Portal of Canada. Thanks Arda for laying this out nicely!

They/them: are we using a generic pronoun, or a specific non-binary pronoun?

One thing that is tricky about the idea of using they/them to be gender-inclusive is that it’s also a pronoun that some individuals use. So — bear with me here — when we use they/them, ARE we being generic and inclusive of all gender identities, or as we using a specific gender identity, and not being inclusive of those who use she/her or he/him pronouns?

Do we only need to worry about gender-neutrality when dealing with the hypothetical?

I feel as though we’re missing some nuance here: these tips are for when we are speaking in the hypothetical or about an unknown person. I believe that if we do know the gender of a person, we can refer to them using those markers.

Is being gender-neutral actually inclusive?

Let’s be honest. Using “they” instead of “he” or “she” is not difficult. It may take a bit of practice until it becomes commonplace, but it’s not a hard change to make. But there was something that didn’t sit quite right with me to just ‘erase gender’.

Are drafting task scenarios the time and place for this diversity stuff?

I obviously have an opinion on this, but I wanted to get the perspective of my team whether they thought our scenarios should reflect the diversity of our website users.

  1. “Should” our scenarios represent the diversity of people accessing our website?
  2. Do we have to agree on practices? Does our team need an official stance?
  3. What resources are “good enough” to support/defend our approach?
  4. Is being gender-neutral inclusive, or does it ignore people’s experiences?
Four discussion questions the team responded to



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Andrea F Hill

Andrea F Hill


Sr UX Specialist with Canada Revenue Agency, former web dev and product person. 🔎 Lifelong learner. Unapologetic introvert. Plant-powered marathoner. Cat mom.