Equality Institute

Equality Insights Blog

A customer walks into your facility....

A customer comes into your business, restaurant or other establishment. How is that customer typically greeted? Commonly, we hear things like, "Good afternoon, ma'am" or "Good morning, sir." Without even realizing it, a simple comment like that could actually be offensive to a guest who is transgender or gender nonconforming.

As I've mentioned before, there are an increasing number of people who are identifying as gender non-binary, gender fluid or gender queer and don't fit neatly into those binary male and female boxes. For those guests, use of the word "sir" or "ma'am" is actually offensive and uncomfortable. They don't feel respected or seen. Your associate may be misgendering them completely by accident, but it could mean an awkward scenario and loss of a customer for life. One of our survey respondents told us:

My gender doesn't change the fact that I'm human. "Sir/ma'am" is the worst nightmare of some of us. As a transman, I've been called "ma'am" or included in a greeting of "ladies" when with my wife, and it makes me want to never return to that establishment. Using gender-neutral terms can be more comfortable for everybody.

So what should your associates be saying instead? Going back to my 11th grade social studies teacher Mr. Albright, the KISS method works best. KISS equals Keep It Simple Stupid. In this case, it means that all you have to do is leave off the "sir" or "ma'am". In a group of people, don't use the terms girls, guys, ladies or gentlemen - all gendering terms.

The best solution is actually to strip those gendered words out of your associate's vocabulary so we don't accidentally offend any gender nonconforming customers. It's easier than it sounds. Here are some greetings that don't use gender:

  • Good afternoon! How are you today?

  • What can I get for you folks?

  • Hi there! Can I help you with anything?

  • Did you find everything you were looking for?

Pretty simple, right? I know for many people, it means a rewiring of how they've always spoken, but simplicity is best to ensure all your customers and guests feel comfortable in your space.

How are you planning to train your team members on this change?