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Complaint about “Dear Sirs”

June 21, 2017

Dear [Head of Equalities and Diversity],

I am writing to complain about the wording of one of [National Public Body]’s recent procurement documents which I accessed through Public Contracts Scotland: An invitation to tender for the evaluation of [Project].

My issue is that the documents commenced with the greeting “Dear Sirs”.  Whilst I realise that this is likely a template document utilising a historically accepted formal salutation, I do not believe that the phrase “Dear Sirs” is appropriate for [National Public Body] to use.

As a woman I felt excluded by the gendered language of the phrase, despite the documents being intended to be accessed by small business owners like myself.  I’m sure it was not [National Public Body]’s intention to suggest that a woman could not be senior or skilled enough to tender for your business, however this is what the phrase “Dear Sirs” implies.

The phrase “Dear Sirs” also excludes our gender non-binary colleagues and potentially our transgender colleagues.

The Equality Act 2010 promotes “a fair and more equal society” and specifically requires public authorities to “foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not”.  Gender and gender reassignment are protected characteristics as you will know, and thus it is required by law that [National Public Body] should not discriminate against these groups.  Again, whilst I am sure that it was not [National Public Body]’s intention to actively discriminate against me as a woman or to prevent me from submitting a tender, the language that you use in all correspondence sets the tone for the organisation and should comply with the Act in spirit.

I also note that “Equalities and Diversity” is of strategic importance to [National Public Body] as one of your four connecting themes and that substantial attention has been paid to celebrating diversity both internally and nationally across the [Specific] sector.

As a potential supplier to [National Public Body] I would like to see this extended to the operational context.  It is my view that there is no place at all for gendered language in a business environment, and that as a publicly funded national body [National Public Body] should be leading the way in getting this right.

Can I suggest that you review your procurement (and other) template documents to replace this phrase with something gender-neutral (perhaps “Dear colleague” or “To whom it may concern”) and ensure that this is the norm in more informal correspondence also.

With best regards,

Ruth Stevenson.

Ruthless Research.


UPDATE: I am delighted to say that they got back with about ten minutes to say:

“Dear Ruth, Thank you so much for getting in touch. I was totally unaware that we were sending out documents addressed in this manner and I am frankly appalled. I absolutely agree with you. I shall register your complaint and you shall receive a formal response. But please be assured that I will get this changed immediately!”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Helen Bain permalink
    June 21, 2017 3:22 pm

    YESSSS! I love all of your blog posts Ruth, but this one is as excellent as it is important. Thank you. HB

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