How to Avoid Communication that is Sexist and Gender-Specific

We are all familiar with terms that de-value us. Women are especially targeted in business language that is intimidating, bullying, and offensive.

In this post, I’ll share some phrases that are commonly used in business communication but which have the potential to be harmful to your brand.

Intimidation is the use of fear to threaten, coerce, or harass someone into doing something. The word comes from the Latin timidus, meaning “to make afraid.” When intimidation is repetitive, we call it bullying.

Bullying comes in many forms, but the most common is verbal. It’s easy to demean, humiliate, and insult someone without causing any visible harm.

Remember being bullied in school? Unfortunately, it stills happens in many workplaces and can take a number of forms, including:

  • written,
  • electronic,
  • spoken,
  • name-calling, and
  • crude comments.

Although some companies are providing opportunities for true equality in the workplace, there is still a long way to go. Inappropriate phrases continue to be used in most business settings. This continues to diminish the value of women and men alike.

The first step managing risk is to be aware of the ways your company is vulnerable.

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When we hear something often enough, our ears get used to it. Repetition tends to suppress our awareness of the potential harm; and subconsciously, we may begin to accept behaviors that are inappropriate.

To avoid the risk of losing customers or the support of your stakeholders, it’s important to recognize their point of view and make appropriate adjustments.

Some words that are commonly heard in business communication—especially those which are suggestive, overly masculine, or overly feminine—can cause a lot of damage to your brand, reputation, and profit margins. Even if you are not aware of it, hurtful words will have an effect and make your company vulnerable.

Consider whether the examples below could cause your customers or employees to feel excluded.

Read more: How to Create the Perfect Workplace Environment

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Sexist Language

Some terms are very risky when used in a business environment.

Here are some examples of emasculating, demeaning, and sexually suggestive phrases.

Emasculating language

  1. Are you man enough? [have the courage or ability to do something difficult]
  2. You need to take it like a man. [act responsibly; do what needs to be done]
  3. Stop complaining and man up. [take initiative and be aggressive]
  4. Congratulations, you’re now in the boys’ club. [group that only allows men and encourages inappropriate behavior]
  5. He doesn’t have the b*lls. [is not courageous and aggressive]
  6. Stop being such a sissy/pansy/creampuff. [to act in a cowardly way or display outward emotion]
  7. He is such a crybaby. [complains or whines excessively]

Demeaning language

  1. Our girls will take care of it for you. [in reference to female adult employees]
  2. Come over here, sweetie. [a term of forced, fake endearment or intimacy]
  3. Put on your big girl panties. [act responsibly; do what needs to be done]
  4. Send this for me, hun. [short for “honey”; another term of forced endearment]
  5. You’re being hysterical. [from the Greek hystera meaning womb; referring to nervousness or emotional outburst]
  6. Calm down and come to your senses. [use logic, don’t use emotion]
  7. Don’t be ugly about it. [don’t have a negative attitude]
  8. You fight like a girl. [not as aggressive or capable as a boy]

Sexually Suggestive

  1. You just need to bend over and take it. [accept the consequences]
  2. You need to stroke his ego. [encourage and build up a person’s self-esteem]
  3. That rubs me the wrong way [is not agreeable. Side note: is there a good way to rub someone?]

etc. etc. etc. …

Gender-Specific Language

Although perhaps not as offensive, the terms below are phrases and job titles that focus on a particular gender.

Masculinized Phrases

Here are some overtly masculine terms used in reference to a group of people.

The Brotherhood of Man

Example: “I believe in the brotherhood of man.”

Alternative: “I believe in all of humanity” or “the human family.”

The Common Man

Example: “We’re here to serve our common man.”

Alternative: “We’re here to serve the average person” or “ordinary people.”

Every man for himself

Example: “It’s every man for himself.”

Alternative: “Everyone for themselves.” “Everyone is on their own.”

Odd man out

Example: “She is the odd man out.”

Alternative: “She is the odd one out.” or “is left out.”


Example: “She man-handled the heavy box on her own.”

Alternative: “She picked up the heavy box on her own.”

Man Hours

Example: “How many man hours should we plan for this week?”

Alternative: “How many staff-hours should we plan for this week?”

Man’s Achievements

Example: “We should be proud of man’s achievements in the 21st century.”

Alternative: “We should be proud of human achievements in the 21st century.”


Example: “This fabric is from man-made materials.”

Alternative: “This fabric is from manufactured materials.”


Example: “This is for the good of all mankind.”

Alternatives: “This is for the good of all humankind”/“humanity”/“human beings.”


Example: “We’re short on manpower.”

Alternatives: “We’re short on personnel” or “We’re short on resources.”


Example: “You agreed to be our fall guy.”

Alternative: “You agreed to be our backup.”

Example: “Guys, we’re starting the meeting now.”

Alternative:Everyone, we’re starting the meeting now.”


Example: “To each his own.”

Alternative: “To each their own.”

Job Titles that are Overly Masculine or Feminine

Nearly every job role can be performed equally well by both women and men. Therefore, in standard noun use we should avoid using masculine terms. Job titles can easily be switched to non-gender-specific titles.

Here are some examples.

Overly Masculine Titles

Ad Man

Alternative: Ad Writer


Alternative: Business Executive, Manager


Alternative: Camera Operator


Alternatives: Chair, Chairperson, Presiding Officer


Alternatives: Congressional Representative


Alternatives: Homeland


Alternatives: Firefighter

Forefather/Founding Father

Alternatives: Ancestor


Alternatives: Supervisor


Alternatives: Custodial Technician, Environmental Services Associate, Maintenance Engineer


Alternatives: Letter Carrier, Postal Worker


Alternatives: Police Officer


Alternatives: Sales Associate, Salesperson

Overly Feminine Titles


Alternatives: Child Caretaker, Child Care Associate


Alternatives: Business Executive, Manager


Alternatives: Sales Clerk, Customer Service Agent


Alternatives: Chair, Presiding Officer, Chairperson


Alternatives: Congressional Representative


Alternatives: Stay-At-Home Parent


Alternatives: Child Caretaker, Child Care Associate

Leading Lady

Alternatives: Lead

Maid/Cleaning Lady

Alternatives: Sanitation Expert, Cleaning Technician


Alternatives: Sales Associate, Salesperson


Alternatives: Flight Attendant


Alternatives: Food Server, Table Server

What other business terms can you think of that are gender-specific? Share your comment below!


If you want to talk about how to reverse a toxic workplace, find out more about my services here.


Grace LaConte is a business consultant, writer, workplace equity strategist, and the founder of LaConte Consulting. Her risk management tools are used around the globe, and she has successfully reversed toxic work environments for clients in the healthcare and non-profit fields. Grace specializes in lactation law compliance & policy development, reducing staff turnover after maternity leave, and creating a participatory work culture.

Find more at, or connect with her on Instagram and Twitter @lacontestrategy.

Grace LaConte is a marketing strategist, writer, and speaker. She is the founder of LaConte Consulting, which offers guidance for manufacturing owners who want to improve their profit, growth, and value. Grace also helps accounting and finance professionals to become top-tier business consultants.

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