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Are Your Boilerplate Legal Docs Implicitly Gender Biased?

By George Khoury, Esq. on February 12, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Gender bias is a real problem. So much so that even boilerplate legal docs can be implicitly gender biased.

And if you think that implicit bias isn't a problem, then you haven't been paying attention. In the venture capital world even, they started making changes to particular contract term language to eliminate implicit gender bias. So if they're doing it there, you might want to consider doing it for your own company.

Gender Neutral and Inclusive Language

It doesn't take much to rework boilerplate contract terms to be gender neutral or more inclusive. Replacing references to terms like salesman or layman for gender neutral variants, like salesperson or layperson, is a simple task that pretty much anyone who can work on a computer and run a find and replace can accomplish.

Closer and more critical readings of boilerplate, or standardized language, may reveal even deeper, or more significant, gender biases inherent in the language that gets used or even the terms, and might not be something you want to delegate out. Notably though, the work could surely serve as a good team-building and training exercise for any in-house team.

Why Inclusive Language Matters

Simply put, using inclusive language matters because of the way people think. The language we use and see shapes the way we think.

That's science and it holds true across industries. Using gendered language has been shown to have a marked effect on individuals. For instance, one study found that women were significantly less likely to apply for positions that ended with the -man suffix. Sadly, these results were also paired with survey results showing individuals rated women lower "for high-power positions." These sorts of stark findings show that there is more that needs to be done.

While it is unlikely that a contract term that uses gendered language will be a central issue in litigation, it could very well be painted as part of the broader picture, or could even be the very catalyst that prompts litigation.

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