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Does “Ladies” Belong in a Salutation?

Rob wrote:

I thought you might be a helpful sounding board from something I’m experiencing at work.

Recently, one of our female executive leaders has been using the word Ladies as a salutation in her emails that include men in the To and/or the Cc of the email.

I’m indifferent to people using ladies, women, men, gentlemen, etc., in emails, but I feel that care should be given when the email contains mixed-gender recipients. As an example, there have been instances where there was just one female in the To section and mixed genders were cc’d, but the executive used Ladies. Had the email included more than one female in the To section, I believe this would have been a suitable use of the salutation Ladies. 

Would you care to share your thoughts on this?

How would you respond to Rob? Do you and your executive team members use gender-based greetings such as Ladies in emails?

Rob’s issue perplexed me. Why would anyone use Ladies as a greeting for a message going to a mixed-gender audience? It makes no sense. I can only guess that the writer sometimes unthinkingly types a greeting that she often uses when writing to a group of women–despite her current audience.

But beyond that, mentioning gender in the greeting of company emails is not appropriate. That’s because gender-based language leaves out and hurts gender-fluid (non-binary) people in the workplace. Ladies does not fit them, and neither does Gentlemen. For more background on using appropriate, sensitive language, read my blog post “A Guide to Gender-Neutral Language.”

gender neutral greetings

If you have been using gender-based language such as Ladies or Ladies and Gentlemen, don’t worry. You have many gender-neutral ways of greeting readers:

Dear Residents,


Hi everyone!


Board members,


Hello everyone!

Hello to all,

Hello Commission Members,

Good morning,

Good afternoon,


Greetings, Finance! [or another team name]

Folks, [if your organization uses that word]

Friends, [for a friendly group of recipients]


You can also skip the greeting and simply start with a positive or warm opening sentence. Examples:

I am pleased to introduce our new executive editor.

I am happy to provide the attached customer feedback.

Welcome back from the holiday weekend!

Thank you for your support of the XYZ program.


I recommend that Rob’s company create a communication policy to guide people toward gender-neutral language. I’d also suggest that someone get a copy of A Quick & Easy Guide to They-Them Pronouns and review it for the company blog or newsletter. Rob’s executive and others in the company will not change their behavior without information and encouragement.

What would you tell Rob? How does your organization deal with gender issues in communication? Please share.

By the way, I have been writing about Ladies for many years. Read my 2007 blog post “Women, Ladies, and Girls at Work,” which inspired Rob to write to me.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

17 comments on “Does “Ladies” Belong in a Salutation?”

  • Hi Jennifer,

    Yes, “brothers and sisters” also communicates along gender lines. “Friends” is a perfect alternative for a religious organization.

    Thanks for asking.


  • Kls, I hope I never get over my desire to communicate well and to continue learning.


  • What about « brothers and sisters » (i.e. in a religious email)? I feel this should be replaced with « friends ». Thoughts?

  • Would you please just get over it?! Instead of twisting ourselves into pretzels in the struggle not to offend someone (it’s OK to say “someone,” yes?), why don’t we just ditch “he” and “she” and their offshoots and simply use “it”? No doubt we’d still offend because no matter what, we’re stuck with that group, the League of the Perpetually Offended, whose snowflake members — have you noticed? — don’t care a jot about those whom they offend.

  • Regarding Rob’s issue: I’m pretty sure the female executive in question is fed up of “guys”, a now generic, both sexes-encompassing term that is actually male in origin. Perhaps she simply wishes to turn the tables and use a female term in the same way.

    As far as KLS’s comments go: I have to agree with them in large part. It is not about a lack of desire to communicate well or continue to learn.

    In Germany, you now have to include in job offers male/female/diverse. You have to include these terms in order to discriminate against no-one. Ironically, if male/female/diverse were simply left off the job offer, automatically EVERYONE would be included, or not? Why keep up with all this INcluding when we simply need to NOT EXclude?

  • KE, thank you for your thoughtful response. I like your guess about the female executive’s motive in using “Ladies.”

    Regarding Kls, I have to disagree. If we want to communicate well, we use the language that appeals to our audiences. It’s something good communicators always do. It takes no effort to switch from “Ladies and Gentlemen” to “Everyone.” Too often, when a request comes from sexual minorities or people who have been treated as less than, the request becomes onerous to some people. Why?

    And to me, learning is important. In a comment above, Jennifer mentioned “brothers and sisters.” A reader of these comments could learn something from Jennifer’s suggestion and change their behavior.

    I love your example and excellent comment on male/ female/ diverse. I agree that leaving those out is the solution.


  • I cringe every time I receive a work email addressed to “Ladies.” There are so many better options available, as you’ve kindly listed.

  • “…the request becomes onerous to some people. Why?”
    Because changing habits is annoying and we naturally tend to avoid it because it requires effort.
    Plus, egoistically, some think that if they’re not bothered by something, no one else should.

  • Kls, what you describe is pandering, and no audience wants to be pandered to.

    I am talking about using the language an audience wants–and sometimes asks–to hear. For example, if I give a presentation at the company SAP, I pronounce the name S-A-P because that’s what they do. I would not pronounce it to rhyme with “cap.”

    If someone does not want to be called a lady or wants to be addressed with gender-neutral language, I do the same.


  • Regarding Lynn’s “If we want to communicate well, we use the language that appeals to our audiences” — how far would she go to accommodate? If her audience were comprised of devout texters, would she switch to textese? Would U, Lynn? How far R U avid 2 go 2 please the crowd? If your audience consisted of people who use “ain’t” and “it do,” then would U communic-8 that way, 2? Cuz if U would, then Y do U have UR newsletter and website? Y not prepare a finale column to say, “Ditch grammar rules and good sense and strive only 2 please UR readers and listeners”?



  • I primarily have government/military correspondence, so “Dear Sir/Ma’am,” is still widely used. In fact, it was pointed out that something like “Good Morning” is too informal. The Commander may use “Team,” but that’s his prerogative.

    When my audience was all military, “ALCON” was the salutation. Short for “To All Concerned.”

  • Mark,

    ALCON–that’s a great example of military jargon. Thanks for sharing it. I do believe “To All Concerned” (spelled out) can be effective.

    An alternative is to skip the greeting and start with a positive opening sentence. That might be a good choice in military communications.

    I am grateful for your comment.


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