It is worthwhile to deal with gender-equitable language. Because it means being sensitive to different realities, differences and discrimination. It does not hurt, but demonstrates fairness, recognition and respect for fellow human beings.

What is gender-equitable language?

As an essential and complex system of interpersonal communication, language and writing influence our perception and interpretation of reality, which ultimately translate into attitudes and behaviour. Language conveys attitudes, values and meanings – it is not neutral and changes with social developments. However, language and the way it is conveyed in communication processes can also be an expression of respect and recognition.

In Germany, the “third option”' has been legally recognised since the end of 2018. This means that the civil status law permits the entry “divers” along with male and female, or it can also be left blank. This recognition enables people with differences of sex development to have their gender and first name legally changed. Since then, the Transsexuals Act has also made it possible to have one's first name legally changed. This applies to people who do not feel that they are a member of the sex indicated on their birth certificate, but to the opposite sex. Institutions are obliged to recognise the new first names or gender identity by no later than when the official change is made.

enlarge the image: Die Formulierung "Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren" ist durchgestrichen und durch "Liebe Menschen" ersetzt.
Mitmeinen bedeutet nicht mitdenken. Abbildung: Stabsstelle Chancengleichheit


Language is gendered. It is often argued that the masculine form in German (for example, Studenten [students], Professor) addresses everyone equally. This masculine form is then referred to as the generic masculine. Research on gender stereotypes, including linguistics and psychology, shows that our choice of words has a significant influence on the images that form in our minds. This often results in the masculine form being understood to mean someone male: it makes only one gender visible and therefore has an impact on the genders that are not mentioned.

to mean all ≠ to think all

From an early age, stereotypical ideas of gender become entrenched - and find their way into people’s minds through language. The following video illustrates this using an experiment in a day-care centre. Children were asked to draw a firefighter, surgeon and fighter pilot, whereupon they drew mostly male figures. The children’s reactions are particularly intriguing when real representatives of these occupations enter the room.

Die Assoziation von Geschlechterrollen

Experiment: the association of gender roles

The specific association of gender roles already takes place in childhood - In the video an experiment with aha experience.

Dear Sir or Madam

These spellings do not refer to non-binary persons, i.e. persons who do not identify as female or male. However, ever since the recognition of (at least intersex) non-binary persons through the introduction of the third positive gender entry “divers”, they should also be given linguistic visibility or audibility – it is only then that gender-equitable language is really gender-equitable. A certain lack of vocabulary still prevails in public discourse when it comes to doing justice to this social reality. What may sound awkward at the beginning should instead be taken as an acoustic reference to the diversity of the sexes. Potential sources of irritation provide a stimulus to break down what are perceived to be normal, binary ways of writing and speaking.

Gender-equitable language is an attempt to address all people equally and to consider and recognise their gender in spoken and written language – as a means of helping to achieve equity and inclusion. In order to make women more visible linguistically, spellings with a capital letter I (e.g. StudentInnen - students) or with a forward slash (e.g. Student/innen) were introduced.

Using a non-binary colon in written language use

There are various linguistic options that are either gender-neutral or take non-binary identities into account. For example, one common option is to use gender-neutral nouns (e.g. Studierende - those who study). In addition, non-binary spellings such those incorporating an asterisk (e.g. Student*innen), underscore (e.g. Student_innen) and colon (e.g. Student:innen) have emerged in recent years.

There is no uniform rule or standard for gender-equitable language, therefore, there is no clear “right” or “wrong”. All of the options mentioned above have their own advantages and disadvantages, and none of them can meet the needs of everybody. 

Nevertheless, Leipzig University is committed to using standardised spelling that is gender-equitable while also taking aspects such as readability and accessibility into account. Following consultation with queer and inclusion policy initiatives, the Office for Equality, Diversity and Family Affairs submitted a recommendation to the Senate on the use of the colon. This is becoming increasingly widespread, provides space for non-binary identities, yet blends into the typeface, is available on every keyboard, is read as a pause by most screen readers and is encoded with a single braille character.

The colon

The colon comes after the root of the word or the masculine designation and before the feminine suffix “-in”. For example:

Autor:in (author)
Dozent:in (lecturer)
Mitarbeiter:in (employee)

If the root of the word differs for the masculine and feminine forms:

up to now better
Arzt, Ärztin (doctor) Ärzt:in
Kollege, Kollegin (colleague) Kolleg:in
Student, Studentin (student) Student:innen

Note on pronunciation
Ärzt:in is pronounced, for example, Ärzt [brief pause, followed by] in. When spoken, the slight pause, also called a glottal stop, is the phonetic equivalent of the colon. This slight pause when speaking is also used with polysyllabic words (e.g. be-inhalten - contain)  and compound nouns (e.g. Spiegel-ei - fried egg).

Definite and indefinite articles

The use of the colon is also intended to include the formulation of definite and indefinite articles. For example:

der:die Autor:in (the author, m,f)
ein:e Beschäftigte:r (the employee, m,f)


In order to address all genders, we recommend not using individual pronouns. For example:

up to now better
sein, ihr Anliegen (his, her query) Das Anliegen von Vorname Nachname (first name, surname’s query)


Gender-specific pronouns can be replaced by neutral wording. For example:

up to now better
Jeder, der am Projekt mitwirkt… (everyone participating in the project)      Wer am Projekt mitwirkt… (those participating in the project)
Alle, die am Projekt mitwirken…(all those participating in the project)
Diejenigen, die am Projekt mitwirken…(those who are participating in the project)
The following is also possible: Jede:r, der:die am Projekt mitwirkt…

Note on addressing someone individually
If the opportunity for a personal exchange or query arises, simply asking which pronoun to use can be a sign of appreciation.

Addressing someone in an email or letter

In German language usage, addressing a person directly is often accompanied by the assignment of an (assumed) gender: Sehr geehrte Frau…/Lieber Herr… (Dear Ms/Mrs... /Dear Mr) As there is usually no information about the person on first contact, we recommend using this wording:

Guten Tag first name surname
Sehr geehrte:r first name surname
Liebe:r first name (surname)
Sehr geehrtes Team der Institution (Dear Institution team)
Sehr geehrte Kommissionsmitglieder (Dear Committee members)

Addressing people in forms and questionnaires

If it is necessary to indicate the gender, it is important to note that there are four options to choose from which are anchored in the law on civil status: männlich, weiblich, divers, keine Angabe (male, female, “divers”, not specified).

You can use a note in your email signature to indicate that gender-equitable communication is important to you: “Please let us know if you would like us to use a different form of address than the one used above in future.”

Communicating how you would like to be addressed

There are many points in your correspondence where you can make it clear that a gender-equitable form of address is important to you. For example, you can include your own pronouns in appropriate places. This gives a signal to non-binary people that you are open to equitable language use. Add your pronouns to your own name (first name, surname, pronouns). Many people use either the pronoun he or she. However, there are also many other pronouns, such as ze, hir, x, ey, em, they, hen, initial letters of the name or the name as a pronoun. Some people do not have a pronoun and also indicate this.

Indicate your own desired pronoun in your email signature, editor field of cover letters, a footnote, Zoom or on presentation slides.

Gender-sensitive communication does not mean using genders in all circumstances and for everything. Using neutral words provides linguistic alternatives that are fair to all genders.

Neutral personal designations

the person, persons
Member, members
those interested
members of the university

Note on participles
For example, the term Studierende (students) as a participle was originally understood to mean only people who were actively studying at the moment it was used. The term did not include people who are currently enrolled but are, for example, travelling. However, language usage is subject to change and the term Studierende has become established as a synonym for Student:innen across the country.

Synonyms for personal (group) designations

Term Synonym
Ansprechpartner, Ansprechpartnerin Kontakt, Ansprechperson (contact)
Damen und Herren (Ladies and Gentlemen) Publikum, Gäste (audience, guests)
Dozent, Dozentin (lecturer) Lehrkräfte (teaching staff)
Experte, Expertin (expert) Expertise
Kollege, Kollegin (colleague) Kollegium (colleagues as a group)
Leiter, Leiterin (head) Leitung, Leitungspersonal (head, managerial staff)
Rektor, Rektorin/Prorektor, Prorektorin (rector, pro-rector) Rektorat (rectorate)
Teilnehmerliste (list of participants) Teilnahmeliste (participation list)
Vertreter, Vertreterin des Mittelbaus (representative of non-professorial teaching staff) Mittelbauvertretung (non-professorial teaching staff representation)
Vorgesetzter, Vorgesetzte (supervisor) Führungskraft, Führungskräfte (manager)
Wissenschaftler, Wissenschaftlerin (researcher) Forschungsteam (research team)

Link recommendation
Gender dictionary with lots of synonyms at (German only)

Using adjectives

To get around gender attributions, adjectives can be used to provide alternatives. For example:

up to now better
Ärzt:in (doctor) ärztliches Fachpersonal (medical professionals)
Sachbearbeiter:in (administrative employee) administratives/verwaltungstechnisches Personal (administrative/management staff)
Instead of Fachmann (expert) fachlicher Rat (expert advice)

Use the passive voice

Using passive constructions can help get around referring to gender. For example:

up to now better
Reicht der Student die Unterlagen nicht fristgereicht ein… (If the student fails to submit the documents on time...) Werden die Unterlagen nicht fristgerecht eingereicht… (If documents are not submitted on time ...)
Herausgeber, Herausgeberin (publisher) Herausgegeben von (Published by)

Accounting for gender can seem complicated at first. When it comes to language, there are virtually no limits to achieving gender equality - in many cases, all that is needed is a little rewording and creative use of language. This page is updated on an ongoing basis. Feel free to share any suggestions you may have with us

Audio sample

This is how gender-appropriate language sounds for blind people with a screen reader (only in German)

Gender-equitable pictorial language

Images are often employed to make texts and information more appealing or even to highlight the message in a text. These visual elements also convey information subconsciously and, at worst, support stereotypes and prejudice. This is why photographs, charts and symbols should also represent all genders equitably. Use our gender-equitable pictograms for your events or, for instance, your email signature. The guide provides a brief overview of the basics of gender-equitable pictorial language.

PICTOGRAMS  (Intranet-Link)

Pictograms should deliver the most important information and facilitate orientation rapidly. Members and associates of Leipzig University can use the pictograms provided here within the scope of their activities, e.g. to signpost locations or to announce events. The large selection of pictograms is intended to facilitate specific communication with target groups and to convey information that is as accurate as possible.

Leitfaden: Ausgesprochen Vielfältig

Outspokenly diverse - communication using language and images in a way that is sensitive to diversity. Recommended course of action by the Koordinierungsstelle zur Förderung der Chancengleichheit an sächsischen Universitäten und Hochschulen (office for coordinating the promotion of equal opportunities at universities and institutions of higher education in Saxony). Available as a PDF in German (accessible, plain language).

Senate resolution

At the request of the Office for Equality, the Senate of Leipzig University was pleased to adopt the following additional resolution at its meeting on 23 March 2021:

  • “Leipzig University strives to ensure consistent linguistic equality as a fundamental principle of effective equal treatment for all. We therefore recommend that, in future (within the scope of revisions or amended versions), the gender colon be used to refer to all genders in all key documents of Leipzig University (regulations, statutes, flyers, etc.) as well as on the university’s website and social media channels, or alternatively, that gender-neutral wording be used.”


Leipzig University strives to ensure consistent linguistic equality as a fundamental principle of effective equal treatment for all.

Leipzig University Senate, March 2021