Experts say the word “guys” is gender neutral and can be used in an inclusive sense to address men and women at work, contrary to the recent advice of Australian of the Year David Morrison.
Australian Oxford English Dictionary editor and ANU expert Dr Amanda Laugesen said the word “guys” was inclusive of men and women and had been gender-neutral for at least 10 to 15 years in Australia.
“Looking at dictionary definitions, we shifted to gender-neutral, particularly when used in the plural form,” Dr Laugesen said.
The Oxford Dictionary made an addition in 2011 to define the word “guys” as a “form of address to a group of people, in later use sometimes a mixed or all-female group”.
Australian of the Year David Morrison says employees should not use “non-inclusive” words like “guys”. Australian of the Year David Morrison says employees should not use “non-inclusive” words like “guys”. Australian of the Year David Morrison says employees should not use “non-inclusive” words like “guys”. Graham Tidy
The advice follows Mr Morrison’s comment to The Australian Financial Review on Tuesday that people in workplaces should be careful of starting emails with “Hi guys” because the word is gender specific.
Mr Morrison was launching the Diversity Council of Australia’s #WordsAtWork campaign to promote the use of respectful and inclusive language. As part of the campaign the Diversity Council discourages uses of obviously derogatory terms in the workplace such as “Abo”, “retard”, “poofter”, “fag”, “dyke”, “ball-breaker” and “so gay”.
Mr Morrison also told ABC on Wednesday he had personally stopped using the word.
“I have now removed that from my lexicon as best I can, I think it’s important,” he said.
An excerpt from the online version of the Oxford Dictionary. An excerpt from the online version of the Oxford Dictionary. An excerpt from the online version of the Oxford Dictionary. Oxford Dictionaries
The controversial comment comes within days of Angus Aitken’s departure from Bell Potter after he was accused by ANZ of sexism for questioning its new CFO’s investment banking background. There was no reference to the chief financial officer’s gender in the note.
‘It’s a word I use all the time’
Macquarie Dictionary senior editor Victoria Morgan said in Australia, teenagers started using “guys” as a gender neutral term in the ‘80s and it has been since been used to refer to groups of people of both gender. She added the word “guys” was not a term that carried an inherently sexist connotation and came into usage without any power struggle between the genders.
“It’s not like terms like chairman or air hostess, which has origins in a patriarchal system and definitely not gender neutral,” she said.
Ms Morgan said there were very few gender-neutral words in Australian English that could be used to refer to groups of employees.
“You can use folks, but it hasn’t really caught on. Aside from that you’ve got ‘everyone’ and ‘people’. ‘Youse’ is sometimes used here but a lot of people are against it,” she said.
Stockland and Bank of Melbourne director Carol Schwartz said on Wednesday the word “guys” is often used in a gender-neutral sense. She said she would often her address her children - three girls and one boy - as “guys”, although in an office she prefers to address colleagues as “everyone”.
She said the word “colleagues” could be used as a more professional alternative.
“One word that is under-utilised is colleagues. It’s warm and it’s professional,” she said.
Broadspectrum chairman and Wesfarmers director Diane Smith-Gander said on Tuesday the word’s meaning had evolved to include both men and women in modern workplaces.
She said a ban on using the word “guys” for mixed gender teams would be “a real problem for me ... it’s a word I use all the time.”
Dr Laugesen said while the meaning of the word had evolved, older people might be more reluctant to use the word in a more gender-inclusive way.
“I think there is still a bit of a generational gap in the sense they are slightly more likely to find it offensive because it has more of a gender connotation,” Dr Laugesen said.
“The younger generation would use it very much in a gender neutral sense.”
Dr Laugesen said some workplaces might frown upon the use of the word, not because it was gender-specific but that it was too colloquial.
“The word is still considered pretty informal. In some workplaces you might have people objecting to the informality rather than the gender connotation of the word,” she said.
The word “guy”, in the singular form, however, remains a form of address to a man, according to the Oxford Dictionary.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins was not available for comment.