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Gender Neutrality and Find – Replace

Yes. These two are related! From an operational point of view. Read on to find out how you can make your writing gender neutral quickly and effectively. This makes your documents look more professional and balanced. People DO notice it. Trust me.


Quick References

Read details about Gender Neutrality (or sensitivity) in language usage here. By no means the best resources. I have not done detailed research on this. But definitely a good start.

The need

Your gender does not matter. Your expression must be gender neutral. People are much more sensitive to it than before. And you must also reciprocate that sensitivity.

The issue is that, in day-to-day work, this issue takes a backseat. To complicate matters further, we continue to use documents and presentations created many years back – either by you or others. While doing so, we are usually copy pasting old content and tweaking it to suit current needs.

Unfortunately, older content is more likely to be gender biased – simply because of lower level of awareness and sensitivity.

In past articles, I have shown you few things you should do while finalizing documents.

  1. Spell / Grammar check is the obvious one which we do.
  2. The blue wavy line means right word in the wrong place.
  3. Mark as final is good for preventing inadvertent changes.
  4. Where as Document inspector protects against leakage of privacy related or confidential information.
  5. If you use special fonts, you must embed them (especially for presentations)

Now let us add a new item – make the document Gender Neutral.

What does it mean – practically?

This is not a comprehensive guide to gender neutrality. But to illustrate what is expected, here are some examples. (Bold is gender neutral).

After logging off, he must shutdown the machine.
After logging off, she or he should shutdown the machine.

The policeman chased the thief.
The police officer chased the thief.

This is a global problem faced by mankind.
This is a global problem faced by humankind.

The word MAN should not be used in generic sense.

A child learns many things from his environment.
A child learns many things from its environment.

Each student should save his questions until the end.
One should save one’s questions until the end. or
You should save your questions until the end.

In short, there is lot of substitution to be done.

I vs. We

This has nothing to do with gender neutrality but it is another place where substitution is required. Here are some references about this issue related to communication, behavioral sciences and teamwork.


Again, this needs to be repaired before finalizing the document.

How to achieve this?

Two methods.

  1. Change your mindset
  2. Use technology to repair mistakes

Obviously changing the mindset is a much better solution because it changes your way of thinking and not just the output produced as documents. This will also improve your verbal communication and teamwork. Think about it a little and see if you can keep this thought at the back of your mind for the next few days. Try it proactively while thinking, speaking and interacting. If you are committed to it, it will happen quickly.

I read somewhere that things become subconsciously if you practice consciously for 27 times. I have read different numbers of conscious repetition – but never mind. You find yours!

As this is not my subject I can only help you so much. However, I still feel this is the best method.

Using technology to be
gender neutral and less self-centered

This sounds like an easy thing to do – everyone knows Find and Replace. Of course that option exists. But there is another option which you may know about, but it may not come to your mind as a potential solution in this case. It is called AutoCorrect.

We will cover AutoCorrect in the next article. But let us finish Find Replace here.

Find Replace

This sounds like a fairly easy thing to do. Technically it is simple… Find “He” and replace with “He or She”. Fair enough.

But we have to do this by finding and replacing it ONE instance at a time. Replace All should not be done. Why? Because you may have a genuine reference to a specific person – and there you cannot say he or she. You will have to use either she or he depending upon who the person is.

Fine. We can do this for other substitutions like I / We, Him/Them, Mine/Our, Me/We and so on.

But there is a bigger problem with the man suffix or prefix – Man-day rate, Policeman, gunman, postman, chairman and so on.. There are so many “men” where there is no substitute available for a global search replace. Therefore, you will need to search for words starting or ending with “man” and then manually replace each word by a gender neutral equivalent. For example, chairman becomes chairperson and policeman becomes police officer.

How to find words starting with “man” … here is how. Enable Wildcard search and then use this exact syntax in the Find textbox.


<(man) finds all words starting with the prefix man.
(man)> finds all words starting with the suffix (ending with) man.

For a detailed discussion on powerful options in Word Find, read this article:
WhatsApp Chat Analysis using Microsoft Word – Part 2

Disadvantages of Find Replace approach

This is an afterthought. Therefore, lot of work has to be put in AFTER the document was created. This is double work.

Besides, no amount of find and/or replace is going to cover all references. That means, you will have to carefully proof-read the document with gender bias in mind. More time lost!

Another approach?

So let us see another approach which can at least make you more gender neutral over a period of time in an incremental manner.

This is called AutoCorrect. It is a great feature in itself and therefore deserves a separate article. I will cover it in the next article.

Don’t change mandatory to humandatory or manager to womanager! Green with envy


2 Responses

  1. Very interesting topic, and neatly dealt with. Thanks.

    Ironically, “manually” in the following sentence might fall slightly short of being gender-neutral:
    //Therefore, you will need to search for words starting or ending with “man” and then manually replace each word by a gender neutral equivalent.//

    Guess you used it consciously for ironic effect. On a more professional note, though, I wonder how something like that can be dealt with!

    1. Hi. I did not put the word “manually” intentionally. But now that you have pointed it out, it is a good irony to have 🙂

      There will be false positives and false negatives. That is part of life! But at least we are thinking about it consciously and we have a versatile tool which we know how to use! Definitely an improvement. Is it not?

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