Language and Communication Guidelines - Gender & Diversity

Language and communication have a significant influence on the perception of reality. According to the principles of our university and campus culture we aim to provide a safe and inclusive environment for everyone. In order to raise awareness for discriminatory patterns in language, we have compiled a number of guidelines focused on gender and diversity in the German language.

We kindly ask all the members of our university to refrain from using phrases and images that reproduce biases and stereotypes and instead normalize an inclusive language that makes every person feel welcomed and valued.

Gender in Language

Gender neutral words and phrases

Gender neutral words and phrases


  • Chairperson instead of Chairman
  • Businessperson instead of Businessman
  • Humankind, humans, humanity, people instead of Mankind
  • Police officer instead of Police man
  • Flight attendant instead of Stewardess/Steward

Singular use of the pronoun they/them/their

Singular use of the pronoun they/them/their


  • The new student lost their textbook. If anyone finds it, please return it to them. They would be very grateful, because they themself weren’t able to locate it at all.
  • If a student needs help, they can ask the professor.
  • Is your child adapting to their new environment?

Omission of possessive pronouns or use of pluralization

Omission of possessive pronouns or use of pluralization


  • An applicant must bring a CV.
         - instead of: An applicant must bring her/his CV.
  • Applicants must bring their CVs.

Appropriate forms of address

Appropriate forms of address

Use "Ms" instead of differentiating between "Miss" and "Mrs".


  • Ms Jenkins and Mr James

Address other people by their first name or full name.


  • Dear Patrick James...
  • Dear Susan Jenkins …

Include gender neutral phrases.


  • Ladies and Gentlemen, dear guests, …
  • Dear colleagues, co-workers and friends ...

Use of asterisk and underscore in German

You may have already seen that sometimes authors use asterisks and underscores in their texts in way you may not expect them to be used and in places you may not expect them to appear either. 

Since German is a language that oftentimes misses gender neutral terms for phrases that describe people, groups of people, work positions, etc. it has become customary to use both, the male and female form in texts. In Germany 'students' became 'Studentinnen und Studenten'.

As awareness for non-binary gender identities started to grow, different forms of spellings have been introduced to include these identities and increase their visibility.

The asterisk (e.g. 'Student*innen') is oftentimes referred to as a 'wildcard' for identities on and beyond the spectrum between men and women.

The underscore (e.g. 'Student_innen') symbolizes a free space for non-binary identities.

Both spellings are pronounced the same way, by inserting a little break before the last syllable (e.g. before '-innen')

Our University has agreed to use the asterisk instead of the underscore, and you can expect to see it more frequently now in all sorts of official documents, in class material and on our website.

Diversity in Language

Be aware of...

Racism & Xenophobia

Refrain from making assumptions or attributions regarding race, ethnicity or cultural backgrounds if contextually irrelevant. Choose words and phrases that don't perpetuate structural inequalities in language or discriminate against people. Do not make assumptions about characteristics based of race, ethnicity or cultural backgrounds.


  • People with international experiences / international background instead of Foreigners
  • International students instead of Foreign students
  • Undocumented - instead of Illegal
  • People of Colour

Anti-Semitism & Islamophobia

Be aware of phrases that have anti-Semitic meaning due to historical associations. Try not to reproduce images and stereotypes as well as concepts of cultural or religious enemies.


  • Shoa instead of Holocaust
  • Muslim person instead of Islamic person
  • Religious minority instead of Cult


Be respectful of all social-economic backgrounds and try not to reproduce prejudices or stereotypes.


  • To be affected by poverty / have economic disadvantages / to live in a precarious financial situation instead of Poor
  • Social mobility instead of Social gain/rise or social loss/fall


Refrain from making assumptions about the living situation or emotional state of people with disabilities as well as people with physical or mental health issues. Do not use people with disabilities for inspirational purposes, especially if those are directed towards people without disabilities. Try to acknowledge every person as an expert on their own social reality and living situation.


  • Living with disabilities instead of Suffering from disabilities / overcoming the burden of disabilities
  • Accessible parking instead of Handicapped parking
  • Mentally ill instead of Crazy / lunatic


Try not to describe people of any age as a burden to society - whether young people or older people. Do not infantilize older people. Try to acknowledge each group as experts of their own social reality and living situation.

Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia

Refrain from using stereotypical description of LGBTIQ+ people. Acknowledge living arrangements, relationships and families aside from heterosexual or heteronormative options.


  • Parent or parents instead of Mother and father
  • Same-gender or same-sex marriage instead of Gay marriage
  • Spouse instead of Husband/wife
  • Transgender instead of Transsexual


Whenever possible, consider increasing the visibility of diversity and challenging stereotypes as you choose pictures to accompany your text, speech or presentation.

Use imagery that represents diversity in a respectful manner and imagery that challenges common signals of power dynamics. For example, ask yourself, who is sitting and who is standing? Who represents the active part of the picture or the passive part? Who is the main focus and who only acts as support? Is anyone more commonly shown as being in need of help and support? And is the person providing said help typically the same type?

The examples on this page may give you an idea of positive representation.


Question, comments or ideas?

Please note that we constantly try to improve and update this site to include more and better examples as well as explanations. Therefore, we are thankful for any suggestions and tips you might have.

If you would like to add to these guidelines on anti-discriminatory language, do not hesitate to contact us.

We look forward to hearing from you and are happy to help you in any way we can!

Literature (German)

Antidiskriminierungsstelle des Bundes (2010): Benachteiligung von Trans*Personen, insbesondere im Arbeitsleben.

Online verfügbar: 

Antidiskriminierungsstelle des Bundes (2015): Diversity-Prozesse in und durch Verwaltungen anstoßen: Von merkmalsspezifischen zu zielgruppen-übergreifenden Maßnahmen zu Herstellung von Chancengleichheit.

Online verfügbar:

Antidiskriminierungsstelle des Bundes (2016): Evaluation des Allgemeinen Gleichbehandlungsgesetzes.

Online verfügbar:

Bundesministerium für Arbeit, Soziales und Konsumentenschutz in Österreich (2010): Leitfaden für Diskriminierungsfreie Sprache, Handlungen, Bilddarstellungen.

Online verfügbar:

Freie Universität Berlin: Gender- und diversitätsbewusste Sprache in der Lehre (Toolbox).

Goethe-Universität Frankfurt (2016): Handlungsempfehlungen für eine diversitätssensible Mediensprache.

Online verfügbar:

Hochschule Emden/Leer (2016): Leitfaden für geschlechtergerechte Sprache.

Online verfügbar: einrichtungen/gleichstellungsstelle/respektvoller-umgang

Informations- und Dokumentationszentrum für Antirassismusarbeit e.V. (Hg.) (2016): Glossar der Neuen deutschen Medienmacher. Formulierungshilfen für einen diskriminierungssensiblen Sprachgebrauch in der Bildungsarbeit in der Migrationsgesellschaft.

Online verfügbar: 

Koordinierungsstelle zur Förderung der Chancengleichheit an sächsischen Universitäten und Hochschulen (2016): Ausgesprochen vielfältig. Gender- und Diversitysensible Kommunikation in Sprache und Bild.

Online verfügbar:

LaKoF Bremen (2014): Orientierungshilfe für eine gendergerechte Sprache.

Online verfügbar:

Stadt Wien (2011): Leitfaden für geschlechtergerechtes Formulieren und eine diskriminierungsfreie Bildsprache.

Online verfügbar: medienarbeit/richtlinien/pdf/leitfaden-formulieren-bf.pdf

Universität Kassel (2013): Gendergerecht in Sprache und Bild.

Online verfügbar: themen/gleichstellung-u-vereinbarkeit/frauenbeauftragte/ sicherheit01/geschlechtergerechte-sprache

Universität Köln (2015): ÜberzeuGENDERe Sprache. Leitfaden für geschlechtersensible und inklusive Sprache.

Online verfügbar: