Gender-neutral language is gradually gaining ground in Germany. In addition to the German media, government departments and institutions of higher education gendergap, gender star or neutral appeals are also used in business – both for internal communication and for communicating with customers.

Sometimes it’s the consumers themselves. Yes, railway Deutsche Bahn concern after the appeal of one passenger to the court, will change its form for online booking of tickets. In the “gender” option, a third option will appear along with male and female, or questions about gender will be removed altogether.

But it also happens the other way around – sometimes in the companies themselves there are opponents of language innovations, as happened in the Audi concern.

Volkswagen manager vs. Audi

“Dear Audians,” is how the automotive company Audi addresses its employees. In the past year, she has created a special guide for staff on the use of language in business correspondence, work orders and company presentations. In appeals, they are asked to use a gender streak in order to avoid discrimination.

But the manager of the Volkswagen concern, which includes Audi, is not satisfied. By his own admission, he is generally against discrimination, but imposed use gender neutral language he thinks so. To fight against the violation of his personal rights, the manager even went to court, where, as a linguistic example, he cited, in particular, the concept of “Der_die Fachexpert_in” (expert_ka) from corporate management. When working with colleagues from a subsidiary, a VW employee would like to be “left alone” and addressed in the usual manner. And in case of violations, it requires the employer to pay a fine of 100 thousand euros.

Neighborhood parking - inclusive language increasingly common in Germany

“Parking for residents of adjoining houses” – inclusive language increasingly common in Germany

The case was heard by the Regional Court in Ingolstadt. The presiding judge suggested a settlement and that Audi should address this employee “in the usual way.” However, the company refused such an offer. Removing gender-neutral messages from all emails, applications and presentations is unrealistic, they note, so compromise is impossible. The verdict will be delivered on July 29. But it is already clear that the lawsuit will not become a precedent, because, as the plaintiff was explained in court, this is an individual case that reflects his personal perception.

Gender-neutral language in the German business environment

Among linguists in Germany, gender-neutral language is perceived ambiguously. In particular, the manager’s claim was supported by the Association of the German Language (Verein Deutsche Sprache) from Dortmund, which considers it “annoying tutelage” and “ideology”. The larger and more authoritative German Language Society in Wiesbaden, on the contrary, finds this form of anti-discrimination useful, but rather advocates the use of two options: for example, “Schülerinnen und Schüler” (“pupils and pupils”) instead of a gender gap – since “language should be understandable and conform to the rules of grammar.

According to a survey conducted among HR managers by the Munich-based ifo Institute and the consulting firm Randstad, almost one in three companies in Germany use gender-neutral, or, as it is also called, inclusive language, primarily for external communication. And in general, large companies are showing great openness here. Some of them have signed “Charter of Diversity” and participate in an initiative that aims to “promote recognition, respect and diversity in the business environment in Germany”. In total, the initiative includes more than 4,000 organizations. Among the signatories of the charter are 30 companies from the list of the DAX index: Deutsche Post, Siemens, BASF, Adidas, Bayer, Deutsche Telekom, EON, Siemens, McDonald’s – and Audi.

The gender asterisk has been added to the Duden Dictionary

Gender asterisk has taken its rightful place in Duden’s dictionary

One of the recommendations of the authors of the initiative is to use gender-neutral language at your own discretion. And, as DW spokesperson Stephan Dirschl notes in a commentary, most of the charter’s signatories are convinced of the need for inclusive language to overcome prejudice and discrimination.

But the case of Audi shows how important and at the same time difficult it is to involve and convince as many employees as possible. To do this, many enterprises employ the so-called diversity managers (Diversity Manager).

“Society in Germany today is more diverse than ever. And our awareness of our individuality is greater than ever before. As a result, employers are expected to see and take into account this diversity,” Dirschl explains.

On the one hand, when looking for a job, specialists attach great importance to business culture, on the other hand, firms consider the diversity of the team a key factor for business success and innovation.

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