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Nearly two-thirds of legal contracts are ‘gender biased’, new research finds

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250 times more likely to see ‘chairman’ than ‘chairwoman’

An analysis of nearly 4,000 legal contracts has shown nearly two-thirds (63%) were “gender biased”.

Data gathered and analysed on randomly selected contracts from 2017 until June 2022 revealed that ‘himself’ is 88% more likely to be used than ‘herself’, while ‘chairman’ is 250 times more likely to be referenced than ‘chairwoman’.

However, there is evidence of gender neutral terms being on the rise. ‘Salesperson’ is now more than twice as common as ‘salesman’ or ‘saleswoman’, while the usage of ‘chair’ or ‘chairperson’ has also doubled in the past five years.

Rafie Faruq, CEO of Genie AI, the open source legal template library which conducted the research, said:

“Bias and prejudice begins in the background — it doesn’t have to be a blatant act, but is embedded within the very fabric of our language. By stamping that out of legal contracts, we aim to progress the legal industry into a fairer and more accessible future. So far, court interpretation of gender-neutral pronouns seem encouraging, therefore we will continue to take bold steps to transform the way law is done, whether that’s ensuring our contracts are gender neutral or open sourcing our template library.”

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The relationship between gender and language is complex. The age old chicken-and-egg question of whether language affects our perception of gender roles in society or merely reflects them has dogged academics for many years.

Oxford Uni sociolinguistics professor Deborah Cameron explained to the BBC last year:

“It’s very difficult to disentangle them. There is good evidence that changing language in certain areas does change people’s perceptions — there’s a lot of work that shows if you present children with bits of text that are about occupations, and you use an inclusive form to name the occupation, they’re more likely to say women can be successful or that the job is suitable for them. If you give them the generic masculine word, they’ll see that women can’t be successful.”

But although research suggests that gendered languages (like Spanish) experienced higher average gender inequality, genderless languages (like Mandarin where nouns and pronouns don’t have a marked gender) are not necessarily an improvement.

According to the author of this 2011 research Jennifer Prewitt-Freilino, genderless language can simply cause people’s minds to jump to the masculine — speakers are more likely to assume a ‘chairperson’ refers to a man. For this reason, natural gender languages (like English which has gendered pronouns (he/she) but genderless nouns) were found to experience the most gender equality.

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7 Comments

What nonsense is this I see before me

What crap. English, like German, uses the male form for the generic. That is common usage not bias.

(31)(7)

Jane

A legal publisher recently asked me to change Chairman but I refused because I was writing about company law and the legislation uses that (to refer to men and women in a sensible way we all understand). I said by all means lobby the state to change the legislation of course….

(9)(2)

Alex

Hi Jane, the challenge for any drafter is to ensure that the meaning of a clause or term is clear and unambiguous, and in my view, the use of inclusive language does not make this more difficult.

Court interpretation of gender neutral pronouns seems encouraging so far, but we’ll keep an eye on it as part of our ongoing reporting on gender bias.

Regarding your back-and-forth with the publisher, if you’d sent a neutral template you’d have saved both parties time and effort wouldn’t you? You’ll have less of these conversations if your drafting is neutral from the outset, so it’s a win-win, no?

(1)(2)

Not drinking your Kool Aid

Wholly wasteful costs are being imposed by those demanding changes to existing wordings that work perfectly well. Until moaners wanted rubbish like gender neutral drafting, based usually on ignorance of basic English grammar conventions, no time was wasted corresponding on the gender neutrality or otherwise of a draft. We are not willing to internalising the cost your likes are demanding to impose on us. It is not win-win, it is a costly waste of time. if you do not like chairman and landlord that is your problem.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Very disappointing to see.

(1)(0)

Pip

Very disappointing to see time and effort is wasted on such pointless projects and worse, the lazy media then churn it out without any critical thought as to the value of such rubbish.

(10)(2)

Alex

Fewer hours would be wasted if gender-neutral drafting was the norm, as we wouldn’t have to discuss this in the first place, wouldn’t you say?

We give full critical thought to the value of this in our full piece on the research here: https://www.genieai.co/blog/legal-gender-bias-report-2022

(1)(0)

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