The Use of Inclusive Language in Labour Documents, by Alix Trimmer

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1 Jul 2022

Much has been said about the use of non-gendered and inclusive language in everyday life, however, there is still not much awareness about the use of such language in people’s work documents.

By labour documents I do not mean official documents that are related to people’s working lives, (those are important but major changes are more complicated), but those that arise, at a private level, within workplaces.

I am a labour lawyer in Mexico and in my country, as in many others, the use of binary and predominantly masculine language is preserved. Labour documents are no exception – the lack of neutrality in the terms that are included results in an obvious erasure of women and non-binary gender identity.

In Mexico, when dealing with ‘formats and templates’ and seeking to reduce the administrative burden required to personalize each contract, policy and administrative act in detail, the documents are usually written with masculine pronouns.  In the best cases the option that the person signing can identify as a woman is by indicating at the end of the word ‘trabajador/empleado’ (worker or employee) with a slash or parenthesis and adding the letter ‘a’. However, while this is inclusive for women, it leaves out non-binary people.

The functionality of some languages, such as English, makes this easier by having a greater number of neutral nouns and words with which the use of non-gendered language is easier, such as the case of labour terms to refer to working people.

The evolution of language and its development towards inclusion is a contentious issue for some people, especially the use of the letter ‘e’ as a neutral to include gender outside of binary terms. For this reason, I invite those of us who are dedicated to human resource management and attention of labour issues to use the tools that each language ​​provides to use truly neutral and inclusive terms.

The use of the letter ‘e’ is undoubtedly a good alternative, however some feminists argue that the imposition of the letter ‘e’ results in the same erasure of women that is carried out today in the adoption of masculine terms as universal. For that reason, in many spaces the use of feminine, masculine and neutral nouns is sought to be fully inclusive. However, when writing documents that are intended to be brief and concise, such an alternative does not seem to be the best option.

In Spanish, speaking of ‘working people’ is a good alternative since all diversities are included from their belonging to the human species without making a distinction of gender identity. I am convinced that over time we will find different ways of using language as a tool for inclusion, creating and using new and better terms to make everyone visible and ensure that, from the first moment a person joins the world of work when signing an employment agreement, they feel recognized, respected and valued as an individual.

It is worth reflecting on the way in which technology has impacted the preparation and management of labour documents; in a world that is moving forward by leaps and bounds towards the elimination of physical documents and with the use of cloud storage and document preparation tools that allow them to be individualized promptly and automatically, it is increasingly absurd to justify exclusion in favor of speed.

Despite the fact that, in countries like Mexico, there is still a deeply rooted culture of preparing and preserving physical documents with autograph signatures, especially for labour documents, it is also the responsibility of those of us who are part of the labour mechanism to push towards modernization to the extent that this does not harm the interests of anyone.

It is feasible to make changes within workplaces with efforts that, although they seem small, can reflect great changes to posterity and, in the future, even reach the normative modification that regulates the elaboration and content of labour documents to make inclusion and the use of inclusive language mandatory.