Addressing a group of people with both men and women as, “Hey, you guys” or “How’s everything with you guys” is incredibly common in American English. But while the usage has become completely normalized, I’m here to tell you that addressing a mixed-gender group of people in the workplace as “you guys” could be seen as sexist. You may think that’s harsh, but if one guy is clearly male and two guys are also male, then how does the plural form suddenly become gender neutral?
The term came into use “in an effort to find an informal collective form of address that connoted a work team,” says Dr. Jeane Anastas, a professor of social work at the NYU Silver School of Social Work whose research focuses on women’s and LGBTQ issues.
In any workplace industry dominated by males, the use of the phrase “you guys” can serve as a subtle reminder of women’s minority status in the workplace.
After all, addressing a group of men or a group of both men and women as “you ladies” or “you gals” would feel a little awkward, right?
“The use of ‘you guys’ subtly suggests that the members of the work team are normatively male. Women can thus feel marginalized,” Anastas says. “This does not even get into those who identify as genderqueer. It is using ‘guy’ as a male signifier that is the more widespread problem.”
Still, even though the phrase is used by nearly everyone (for now), there’s no harm in trying to eliminate it. “I am finding it difficult to eliminate the terminology ‘you guys’ from my own speech,” Anastas says. “[But] I am making dropping ‘guys’ a personal goal because of its gendered nature. When I am writing workplace emails, I often fall back on ‘Dear Colleagues’ but that seems too stilted. In conducting a meeting, I may just say ‘hello.’”
Here are five alternative gender neutral addresses to “you guys” to incorporate into your daily interactions:
Feel free to pick the one (or more!) that feels most organic for you—but note that all of them help make your dialogue more inclusive.