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The impact of language and images for gender equity

Language and imagery can be used as a tool for gender equity and help create an inclusive learning environment.

Once you understand the concept of equity, you can consider strategies for achieving equity in the learning environment.

Importantly, gender should be taken into account in the language used to address learners. This is relevant for children as well as adult learners. For example, evidence shows that men prefer more assertive language and interaction in online spaces, while female learners opt for more expressive, collegial contributions to online forums creating connection through their communication patterns, appearing to value dialogue rather than to dominate the digital space (Clemans et al., 2019).

The Importance of Representation

Have you noticed how impactful language and images can be to influence perceptions of gender — for example, when telling a story or creating a scenario to illustrate a concept? Research at Monash University (Clemans et al., 2019) identified that “individuals who are presented with [role] models who articulate gender-neutral language, which then translates into behaviour that eliminates implicit gender biases, are more likely to imitate this language and these behaviours”. Representation of people and groups should therefore be taken into consideration in the selection of language and images in learning materials.

Gender Pronouns

It is also important to be mindful of who is in the room and invite learners to share how they want to be referred to. This is particularly important for gender diverse and gender non-conforming people who choose their preferred pronouns. Gender pronouns are the words that you use to refer to another person when you are not using their name. It is important not to make assumptions and to use a person’s correct pronouns as this is all part of respecting the person and creating an inclusive environment while also affirming a person’s gender identity and supporting gender equality.

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