Businesses are increasingly focused on improving their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion support, however, all too often they fall at the first hurdle through the use of gendered terms within contracts. That’s according to recent data from Genie AI, the open source legal template library, which found that 63% of contracts between 2017-2022 still use gendered terms.
From simple pronouns such as ‘he’ or ‘his’ to more formal titles like ‘salesman’ or ‘chairman’, gendered terminology is rife within legal contracts. For example, contracts are 88% more likely to reference ‘himself’ rather than ‘herself’, and ‘chairman’ is 250x more likely to be referenced in contracts than ‘chairwoman’.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, with usage of ‘salesperson’ more than twice as common as ‘salesman’ or ‘saleswoman’. Usage of ‘chair’ or ‘chairperson’ has also doubled in the past five years.
Updating a contract’s language in accordance with the recipient’s gender via a legal team can be a costly process, so many just keep gendered language regardless of the recipient’s gender. As the first touchpoint for a new starter, this can reflect poorly on the company and its DEI aims.
Genie AI says that it is launching 1,500 gender-neutral contract templates for free. It will also signal gender-neutrality in its contract library, so users can be assured they are meeting business DEI standards. The platform provides free templates as part of its legal community offering, with users paying for its ‘AI Lawyer’ and ‘In-house Lawyer’ contract review solutions.
Rafie Faruq, Genie AI’s CEO, said: “Bias and prejudice begins in the background – it doesn’t have to be a blatant act, but is embedded within the very fabric of our language. By stamping that out of legal contracts, we aim to progress the legal industry into a fairer and more accessible future. So far, court interpretation of gender-neutral pronouns seem encouraging, therefore we will continue to take bold steps to transform the way law is done, whether that’s ensuring our contracts are gender neutral or open sourcing our template library.”
The data was taken from 3,839 randomly selected documents up to 30 June. Full data analysis available here.
Editor’s comment: Lack of diversity is an issue faced by the entire legal sector but within legal technology appears to be getting worse not better. Fixing gender bias in the language that we engage with every day is an essential step, given how much of an impact language has on our expectations and sense of self-worth.
In 2018, I hosted a legal tech diversity meeting at DLA Piper. Mitra Janes, then head of diversity and inclusion at DLA Piper, gave a very powerful talk about the impact that language has on girls and women. The example she gave was the way law firms and vendors advertise for positions, which are often male-oriented in their language. Textio is a useful tool that analyses if job posts are gender neutral and Janes said: “Be clear with the agency you use and tell them that you are serious. Ask them how this is a diverse list of people. You’re telling them that this is important and that you are holding them to account.”
The same should be said of contracts: there needs to be accountability for making these important changes to language in an age where it is no longer acceptable for a contract to refer to chairman or salesman as the default.