Over the past couple of years, it’s become especially clear that social media is a powerful tool when it comes to discussions about gender equality. So, in celebration of International Women’s Day, and our commitment to #PressForProgress, we’ve put together a list of simple ways to make your social channels more gender inclusive. Of course, it’s impossible to talk about gender inclusivity without also talking about racial and LGBTQ inclusivity, so you’ll find some tips on that below as well.

You may be doing all or some of the things on this list already (good job!), but it never hurts to check-in and make sure that you’re on the right track. After all, sometimes it’s the simple things that can help make a big difference.

A gender inclusive social media checklist

1. Use gender neutral language

You want your messaging on social media to reach and engage as many people as possible, right? Avoid language that is biased towards one gender, such as “mankind”, “ladies,” or even “Hey guys!”.

Language is a powerful tool that shapes our perception of the world around us in both obvious and subtle ways. When it comes to your social messaging, applying a policy of gender neutrality—which is defined by Merriam-Webster as “not referring to either sex but only to people in general”—can be an effective way to ensure no one feels left out.

And that includes the use of pronouns like “they” instead of “he/she.” Even if you think you know the gender identity of the person or people you are interacting with, it’s best practice not to assume.

If you’re not sure a word you want to use in your social messaging is gender neutral, try checking the Gender Sensitive Lexicon published by UN Women.

2. Share multiple voices and perspectives

Try to ensure that the content you are sharing on social media is created by a diverse range of people and perspectives. There are resources that exist to help hiring managers source diverse talent. And if you’ve already made it this far into this post, I’m guessing you don’t need to be convinced of the value a diverse talent roster can bring to your business. But just in case you do, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry peers. That number rises to 35 percent when applied to racial and ethnic diversity.

3. Use diverse stock photos and icons

We all remember the “women laughing alone with salad” meme, a collection of stock imagery that went viral due to the ridiculous nature of its subject matter. But, beyond being funny, the meme went viral because it struck at the heart of a deeper problem in the world of stock photography: the perpetuation of traditional gender and racial stereotypes. There are limited photos of women and people of colour in positions of power or careers like engineering, software development, medicine, law, and other historically male-dominated fields.

Luckily, the stock photo landscape has evolved to include several sites—such as Women of Colour in Tech, Burst, and Pexels—committed to sourcing images of diverse people in a wide range of roles. This makes it much easier for content creators to promote inclusion across their social channels.

4. Choose your emojis wisely

Most people would agree, emojis are the nearest thing to a universal language we have in this age of digital communication. So if you’re already working hard to ensure the words you’re using in your social messaging are gender neutral, why not do it for your emoji as well?

Use “yellow” emojis when addressing a diverse audience to communicate that you are not addressing one single ethnic group (or use multiple colours of emoji if trying to depict a broad audience). Also, stick to the non-gendered emoji faces—or if you must include one of the gendered emojis, try to include all genders.

5. Remove offensive comments

If one of your posts receives an offensive comment that is misogynist, racist, homophobic, or hateful towards any group or person, remove that comment so people know that you do not tolerate that kind of behaviour on your social channels.

Even if you have the best intentions, engaging with this type of comment can actually be seen as validating to the commenter and attract similar types of responses from others.

6. Address people by their names

As per tip no. 2, it’s best not to assume a person’s gender in online communication. This is especially important for customer service interactions that happen over social media. If responding to a complaint or customer inquiry—especially in cases where the username is unclear—address the user by their username (or name, if it’s present), rather than “Mr.” or “Mrs.”, “Sir” or “Ma’am” or moniker that assumes a gender.

7. Create gender inclusive forms

If you’re running a social media account, chances are you’ve also run (or will run) some sort of contest, campaign, or survey for your followers that might require collecting information from them via a form. When collecting this information, avoid asking respondents/entrants to list their gender, race, or sexual orientation—or at least make these questions “not required” for submission.

If you absolutely must know this information, make sure to include an option like “I identify as:____” or “Prefer not to Say” in the gender and/or sexual orientation portion of the form. Here’s a guide to designing forms for gender diversity and inclusion.

Also, avoid including a “title” section—where followers have to choose between “Mr.”, “Ms.”, or “Mrs.”—on your forms.

8. Establish clear posting guidelines

If your brand manages a Facebook group or some sort of online community involving user-generated content, make sure to include posting or community guidelines somewhere in the group’s description (or pinned to the top of the feed).

These guidelines can be as detailed as you want, but are mostly used to inform members of what kind of content will not be tolerated in the group (e.g., sexist, racist, or homophobic content). They can also detail what kind of content is encouraged, and the consequences of violating the guidelines.

Posting guidelines are not meant to make group members feel like they can’t speak freely, but they ensure that group discussions stay inclusive and on topic. In fact, with a set of solid, clear guidelines to follow, your members may feel more confident joining and regulating discussions.

These are just a few of the strategies you can employ to make your social channels more inclusive. There’s surely more we could all be doing. And listening is key. So, over to you: What do you do to promote inclusivity on your social channels?

Download the Checklist