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On Gender Neutral Language: Pronouns and an introduction/refresher on Singular They

World Pride Sydney 2023 recently came to an end and the pride flags have been taken down from Wynyard Station (already!?), but that is no indicator to taper off efforts towards a more inclusive workplace.

There are some non-inclusive usage of pronouns scattered throughout documentation in our codebase. Some of these are from legacy/external sources, whilst there are some occurrences from recent patches; it follows that there may be few resources on inclusive language available.

Let's highlight that her/him, hers/his, and he/she are not as inclusive as one might (initially) think. While these are the two most identified-with pronouns in the population, it still represents a mere cross-section of society. They mention exactly two pronouns, whereas a list of all possible pronouns is intrinsically non-exhaustive; gender identities can be thought of as a spectrum.

So how do we use pronouns in a way that includes everyone? A widely- adopted solution is to use Singular They. From the APA Blog, writers should use the singular they in two main cases:

  • a) when referring to a generic person whose gender is unknown or irrelevant to the context and

  • b) when referring to a specific, known person who uses they as their pronoun.

For our case, we can simply switch out his/hers, etc for they or their.

For a more complete guide on bias-free language, I highly recommend reading through the APA Style Guidelines for Gender. If you're interested, here are more resources for further reading on related topics: stores permanent records of cited sources for academics/law. If a link above becomes unavailable, you can use a mirror below. However, if a linked resource is no longer accessible, it is probably a good indicator that it has been deprecated in favour of better guidelines and you should seek those out.

APA Style: Singular They, YE54-R5A9

APA Style: Guidelines for Gender, 8TQV-B7AV

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