Guys a gender neutral term – another hot debate

by Sep 14, 2021

 A gender neutral term – another hot debate

Is using “guys” as a form of greeting gender neutral? For Dorothy Dalton absolutely not. It’s male coded.


I came across this discussion on LinkedIn led by David Rosendahl.

I left a rather bland comment expressing surprise at the result, where 79% indicated they thought it was O.K.. That percentage has stayed reasonably consistent throughout the poll.  My two-line comment in itself got 29 replies and added to a hot discussion.

Is “guys” as a form of greeting gender neutral? For me absolutely not. It’s male coded.


But many don’t see it that way and suggest that in our current times the term guys is now gender neutral.

History 101

  Amy Diehl PhD explains in an article for Fast Company that prior to the 18th century, the English language had distinct pronouns for the second person singular and plural which were later dropped. This left modern English “without a pronoun to distinguish between “you” that refers to an individual person and “you” that refers to multiple people.”

Countries and regions have therefore come up with alternatives Diehl cites:

  • y’all: U.S. South, West Indies, Alberta
  • you lot: England
  • you guys: is used in many regions of the United States and other English-speaking countries.

The term “guy” is rooted in England in 1605 when Guy Fawkes attempted to assassinate King James 1   A “guy” came to mean an effigy of Fawkes which is burned annually on 5th November. In the U.S  it came to mean  “man ” or “men”. Like cookies (biscuits) movie (film) cupcakes (fairy cakes)  and ATM (cash point) Americanisms have slipped into English and the use of “guys” is one I respectfully suggest we don’t need to mean all present company. On both sides of the pond.


Using gender-coded language, even by women is an indication of the depth of embedded sexism in the dominant culture which is male-coded culture. Indeed, it’s not hostile, but if we addressed a mixed group with “Hi gals” or “Good morning ladies” I anticipate the reaction would be negative.  Replacing “guys” with gender-neutral alternatives respects the entire audience, regardless of their gender preferences or status. Man does not mean “you”

A 2011 study, suggests that subtle gender-exclusive linguistic cues can make women feel ostracized and encourages them to self de-select in professional environments.  The research shows how women respond in mock interviews with a lower sense of belonging and less motivation when gender-exclusive language (he) as compared to interviews that used gender-inclusive (he or she) or gender-neutral language. Together, these studies show that ” subtle linguistic cues that may seem trivial at face value can signal group-based ostracism and lead members of the ostracized group to self-select out of important professional environments.”

It seems that shifting to gender-inclusive language supports an organisational culture that fosters belonging.

gender netural term

Other greetings

It’s really not complicated. Here are some suggestions “Good morning…

  • Everyone
  • Colleagues
  • People
  • Team
  • Friends
  • Gang

How to make a change

  • Self-check – how inclusive is your own language? Do you have any blind spots? Get an accountability partner.
  • Role model gender-neutral and inclusive language, especially if you are in a leadership role
  • Create a call-out culture where everyone flags up lapses, however small.  We all do it.
  • Check-in on someone you feel may be negatively impacted.


The reality is that language matters and although it does evolve over time, it is something we can address instantly. Overhauling male-coded workplaces is costly and takes time. Making changes to our spoken language is free and immediate. It’s all about creating new habits and adopting a different mindset.  These changes will eventually spill over to our written communication and corporate culture.


3Plus can help you create an inclusive company culture. Get in touch today!




Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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