Language and Bias

Following research from linguists and data scientists, the bias in the language we use has increasingly proven to be a major concern in the workplace. Aside from the gendering of words in languages, words, especially in languages without gender markers such as English, now have biases embedded into them when they previously had no specific gender association. With that knowledge, we need to be cognizant of the words we use and what they infer. When deeply considered, one can see that words not only reveal but regurgitate societal discrimination based on gender.

Even the same character traits and work positions are phrased differently depending on one’s gender. Examples of this include chairman vs chairperson, insurance man vs insurance agent, man of letters vs scholar etc. The gendering of work titles such as cleaning lady and delivery boy as well as corporate titles negatively affects society by creating an illusion that certain positions are ideally held by one gender over another.It is therefore our responsibility to ensure that this no longer happens, especially in the places we work, in order to foster a bias-free work environment that makes everyone feel respected, allowing for maximum personal and collective growth and productivity.

Here are some recent resources we found that we think can be useful:

Project Implicit at Harvard University

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. The IAT may be especially interesting if it shows that you have an implicit attitude that you didn't know about. The IAT measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy).

UNAIDS Gender Assessment Tool

The gender assessment tool for national HIV responses (GAT) is intended to assist countries in assessing the HIV epidemic, context and response from a gender perspective and in making the HIV responses gender transformative, equitable and rights based and, as such, more effective. The GAT is designed to support the development or review of national strategic plans and to inform submissions to country investment cases and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Both the Sustainable Development Goals and the UNAIDS Strategy 2016–2021 emphasize the need for a holistic approach, integrating the full spectrum of people’s needs on health and rights.

WHO Gender Assessment

The Gender Assessment Tool (GAT) is comprised of critical questions, as in gender analysis. The GAT helps you determine the gender-responsiveness of a policy or program. The GAT can help to rapidly assess the gender-responsiveness (gender-sensitive, -specific or -transformative) of high-level activities of a given program. It indicates where gender-responsiveness can be improved.

UN Women Gender-Inclusive Language Guidelines UN Women has a searchable gender-inclusive lexicon that includes some 650 entries in English, French and Spanish. Search it using the “find a term” search, or alphabetically.


Building on its 2019 IWD #BiasCorrect campaign success – which featured images of women leaders and influencers like Hillary Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg sharing biased words used to describe them in the workplace, the Catalyst #BiasCorrect 2020 campaign seeks to interrupt unconscious bias by highlighting the power of words used to describe women in the workplace. The plugin tags unconscious bias in real-time conversations on work-based chat platforms, identifying words that create harmful gender stereotypes by suggesting alternatives, such as “passionate” to replace “emotional” and “boss” to replace “bossy.”The #BiasCorrect website features information on how individuals and companies can combat unconscious bias.

UNDP Tackling Social Norms: A Game Changer for Gender Inequalities

The Gender Social Norms Index (GSNI) measures how social beliefs obstruct gender equality in areas like politics, work, and education, and contains data from 75 countries, covering over 80 percent of the world’s population. The analysis reveals that, despite decades of progress closing the equality gap between men and women, close to 90 percent of men and women hold some sort of bias against women, providing new clues to the invisible barriers women face in achieving equality. According to the index, about half of the world’s men and women feel that men make better political leaders, and over 40 percent feel that men make better business executives and that men have more right to a job when jobs are scarce. The trends show that while in some countries there have been improvements, in others, attitudes appear to have worsened in recent years, signaling that progress cannot be taken for granted.

Gendered Innovations

The goal of the Gendered Innovations project is to provide scientists and engineers with practical methods for sex and gender analysis. To match the global reach of science and technology, methods of sex and gender analysis were developed through international collaborations. Considering gender adds a valuable dimension to research. Doing research wrong costs lives and money, gender bias also leads to missed market opportunities. Integrating these methods into basic and applied research produces excellence in science, health & medicine, and engineering research, policy, and practice.

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