Corporate America is embracing gender-neutral titles—for now


Corporate America is embracing gender-neutral titles—for now

More companies are beginning to use the term ‘chair’ rather than ‘chairman.’ But will this shift persist?

BY Pavithra Mohan

In November, Intel noted in a regulatory filing that the company’s board had approved “amendments to delete outdated references” and “utilize gender-neutral terms.” The line referred to a small but notable change that many prominent companies have made in recent years—from major tech players like Amazon and Apple to other leading brands like Starbucks and Tesla—as many of them faced pressure to invest in DEI initiatives after 2020.

An analysis conducted by Bloomberg found that 123 companies in the S&P 500 had made adjustments to the term “chairman” since 2020, using “chair” or “chairperson” instead. The analysis, which examined more than 2,000 regulatory filings, found that the majority of those companies quietly disclosed the change in filings, without any kind of public announcement. In total, 185 companies—over a third of the S&P 500—now use gender-neutral language in this context. As recently as 2020, however, 438 companies were still opting for “chairman” regardless of who held the role, according to Bloomberg.

The companies that have taken this step span several industries—including finance (JPMorgan Chase) and healthcare (UnitedHealth)—and are among the most valuable in the U.S. These changes are also in line with broader efforts to adopt gender-neutral language well beyond the corporate world, many of which date back decades. (Last year, for example, lawmakers introduced a bill that sought to revise the U.S. legal code to use gender-neutral language.)

But Bloomberg notes that the trend of moving away from “chairman” has slowed since early 2023, seemingly in response to the growing backlash and political outrage over corporate DEI initiatives. That might also explain why so many of these companies have not drawn attention to their use of gender-neutral language—a shift that shouldn’t be particularly controversial, given “chair” or “chairperson” is simply a more accurate descriptor for boards that have a non-male leader.

Corporate America is embracing gender-neutral titles—for now

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action, however, companies have grown cautious of potential lawsuits, a fear that has driven them to both overhaul the language in their filings—scrubbing terms like “anti-racist”—and quietly retreat from DEI initiatives. The teams trying to keep DEI initiatives afloat at many companies have been hit hard, as layoffs have swept the tech industry over the last year.

As Fast Company has previously reported, this disinvestment is not exactly new: It didn’t take long for companies to pull away from their commitments to DEI, after the public outcry following George Floyd’s murder began to fade. But the reticence to make, or at least talk about, relatively minor changes to terms like “chairman” seems to indicate that many companies won’t reverse course anytime soon.



Pavithra Mohan is a staff writer for Fast Company. 


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