Human Resources

Guidelines on the use of non-discriminatory language

Further information

Contact equity and diversity

The Equal Opportunity Advisory Committee has produced these revised guidelines on the use of non-discriminatory language.

The Committee believes that the University's commitment to equal opportunity should be evident in all official University publications and communications.

The Senate has affirmed support for the principle of non-discriminatory language.

This is a brief guide for members of the University to the use of language that avoids expressions offensive to some groups in society and to assist in complying with equal opportunity legislation.

  1. How to use non-discriminatory language
  2. Occupational descriptions
  3. Teaching and promotional material

How to use non-discriminatory language

Titles of address, rank, occupation, status

Use a first name, a neutral title or nothing.

Where titles are appropriate, use parallel titles:

Instead of:
Miss or Mrs
Ms to parallel Mr (except where the woman prefers Miss or Mrs)
Contact Professor Brown or his secretary Mary Smith, secretary
Contact Professor Brown or Ms (Miss or Mrs) Mary Smith, secretary

When listing names, use alphabetical order except where order by seniority is more important.

Patronising and demeaning expressions

Avoid terms or expressions that are patronising and demeaning and sex type generalisations.

Personal pronouns

Use he, his, him, himself only when referring specifically to a male person.

The use of he and she, she and he, she/he, s/he to refer to either female or male persons can be cumbersome. The following are acceptable alternatives:

Rewrite the sentence in the plural.

Instead of:
The lecturer will display his timetable on his door
Lecturers will display their timetable on their office doors
Each student is responsible for material on loan to him
Students are responsible for material they borrow

Rewrite the sentence in the passive.

Instead of:
He must return it by the due date.
It must be returned by the due date.

Rewrite avoiding his or her after each, someone, anyone, nobody.

Instead of:
Anyone who wants his work evaluated.
Anyone wanting work evaluated.

However, a more acceptable form would be: Those who want their work evaluated...

It is not acceptable to present material with the disclaimer that all masculine nouns and pronouns are to be taken as referring to both females and males.

Sex role stereotyping

Avoid sexist assumptions and comments.

Instead of:
Women and other minority groups
Minority groups
We are looking for an administrator who is his own man
We are looking for a competent administrator
The student mother of three won an award
The student won an award
Students include mature age housewives
Students include mature age women

Gender descriptions

Avoid irrelevant, gratuitous gender descriptions.

Instead of:
A woman doctor
A doctor
A lady editor
An editor
A male nurse
A nurse

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Occupational descriptions

When referring to a position, a quality or an action that might apply to either sex, use a sex neutral term. Also, avoid the use of man or of composite words involving the syllable — man, which imply the term is exclusively male.

Instead of:
the average man
the average person/ordinary people/people in general
executive/business executive
members of the clergy
the common man
the average person/ordinary people/people in general
founding fathers
headmaster, headmistress
man of letters
man of science
(to) man
man hours
hours/working hours
beings/humankind/civilisation/people/human race
one-man (operation)
run by one person
for or on behalf of/spokesperson
quality of work/work skill

The use of gender-marked terms perpetuates and reinforces the outdated attitude that women are to be considered first as female and second as persons of skill and talent.

Instead of:

Word order

Vary the order of listing pairs of nouns and pronouns when the customary way of presenting the pair reflects stereotyped views of status.

Instead of:
men and women
women and men
boys and girls
girls and boys

Language use for minority groups

Avoid racist language. Terms describing nationality, or an ethnic or other minority groups are frequently controversial, but some terms are more acceptable than others. Terms acceptable to people involved, however, may vary over time, and the careful speaker or author must become sensitive to what groups described prefer. For example, the term 'Aboriginal people' is preferred.

When referring to someone with a disability, the general rule is 'put people first', for example. a person with a vision impairment. When referring to facilities and services terms like 'disability parking' can be used.

Avoid using irrelevant, gratuitous ethnic descriptions.

Instead of:
A Chinese Professor
a Professor
an Aboriginal youth
a youth

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Teaching and promotional material

Demonstrate the relevance of teaching material to all students by depicting the experience and interests of both women and men. Relate examples and illustrations to a broad range of life experiences inclusive of gender and cultural diversity, not just a narrow range of experiences and interests.

Ensure promotion material — brochures, videos, prospectuses, and the like — feature both women and men and where appropriate reflect the cultural diversity of the University and the broader community.

Avoid the use of cartoons and illustrations that present stereotyped views of women and men.

Students should use this Guide in the preparation of assignments to ensure they are free from bias.

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