Guys as the new ‘um’

We had a design firm come give us a talk about how they ‘do’ UX. They started  —  “Hey Guys”. Welcoming us as such is OK; I don’t love being refered to as a ‘Guy’, but using it once as a collective introduction to a casual meeting is OK. They then said “why wouldn’t you want to work here? We’re full of batmen”.  

Now you’ve got me on the backfoot. I think you’re a brogrammer and I’m going to be more judgmental of your talk.

I start to notice every time you say “Guys” when the word you are really looking for is “people”. It grinds on me. I get so pissed off I start taking a count of the amount of times you use the word “Guys” when you do not mean a man.

12 in less than 30 minutes, by the way.

Sometimes you’re not even looking for a word, you’re just adding Guys as a filler word. It’s like um. Like good speakers train themselves out of “um” you need to train yourself out of using “Guys”. Why? Because I didn’t take anything out of your talk. If you’re pitching to a client you don’t know how the people in the room feel about this word and you repeatedly use it (incorrectly), you’re going to alienate them. You’re going to piss them off. You are not going to get the job. Why risk it? 

Stop using Guys to mean people. 

Am I just “over-reacting”? 

Maybe, to some. The point is gendered words can be, and are, damaging to some recipients (and effectively the deliverer). You’re probably not even aware of the fact that you’re alineting or demeaning your audience. I, and a lot of other women, have a visceral reaction to the term and it’s important you are aware of the impacts of choosing to using it.

Over the following week I asked some females who were in the presentation what they thought of it. I did not ask them specifically about the amount of times the word Guys was used (wouldn’t want to bias the feedback). Neither mentioned it. When I said that the blog post was actually going to be about the word Guys, one admitted that she did notice it at the time, and the other said it was a good point. So while they may not have had as strong a response as I did, they did certaintly notice. 

I’ve also had this conversation with people before, who literally did not choose the a pitch which kept using the word ‘Guys’. If you’re potentially offending people, excluding people and losing yourself business, why keep doing it? 

After this talk, I decided to start counting the amount of times I or a group of people of all genders were refered to as “Guys” in a week. 

The size of the problem

*Friday I started from 1PM after the presentation triggered me

The design firm presentation massively skewed the results, generally my colleagues are much better and not overusing this term. 

However, I was referred to as a girl at work four times. I’m a grown professional woman, this is not OK. I think the distaste came across on my face, because the next day we were refered to by our names, rather than “the girls”.

Since I was taking count of this term, I noticed that yes, sometimes I use guys. I asked a woman “Will you guys be open on Labour Day?”. I’m not perfect, but I’m trying to pull myself up on it’s use, and I certainly don’t use it in formal presentations, even if they are more casual in nature. 

Is “Guys” gender neutral?



It depends. 

Twitter Says

Yes by a whisker. It’s about 50–50 between 100% always gender neutral, and shades of grey to firm no. 

Medium, search Guys

I was looking for a particular article about the use of the word “guys” on medium. Searching for this term so many of the articles were really about men. 

  • The Guys Girl

  • A Guys’ guide to the female body 

  • 8 things gay Guys should start saying to each other more often 

  • Nice Guys finish last 

  • Two 17-year old Guys… 

  • Why I never tell Guys I’m married

  • Why white Guys don’t go for black girls

  • You know I like Guys, right? 

Tell me again that Guys isn’t a gendered word? 

One of The Guys

I am (or was?) one of those “cool chicks”. You know, the one who is “one of The Guys”. The one who would be hanging out with The Guys, when none of the other girlfriends were invited. But it’s fine that I’m there, because I’m not a girl, I’m just one of The Guys. 

Because I’m a female who is “cool”, or who doesn’t do “girly” things, I must be a Guy? No. I can be whoever I am, while identifying as the gender I do, regardless of what you stereotypically think a girl should and shouldn’t do. Not wearing make up doesn’t make me A Guy.

I’m going to talk to the guys in engineering

What do you picture when I say “I’m going to talk to the guys in engineering”? 

The guys in engineering

We’re looking for a new guy to join the team 

Do you start to shortlist men in your head, ahead of females? Are you inviting an unconscious bias? 

Do you really need to use ‘Guys’?

Let’s look at some of the times Guys was used during this week.

So you guys have told us…
Guys, what do you think about…
Have a seat, guys…
What are you after today guys…
Did you guys enjoy everything…

In all these examples guys is a completely redundant word. The sentences all make sense without it. If you don’t need it, don’t use it. Try and train yourself out of this habit, like you do with um’s, erm’s and like’s.

The last three, came from a waiter at a local cafe, and that’s probably fine.

Other times, I heard:

Hi guys
Well done guys
I need to go and talk to the guys in engineering

Again, maybe not needed — the sentences make sense without it. Most of the time I wouldn’t notice these small examples. If someone is saying “Hi guys” it’s usually a friend, or a colleague that I’m friendly with. When the Product Director comes down after a product release that a team (of all different genders) have been working of for over a year, and says “thanks guys for all your hard work”, I honestly probably would not have noticed, except I was taking this poll.

What to use instead of guys?

If you want to fill a word in after “hi” or “well done”, why not try:

  • The names of the people you are talking to (if one or two)

  • Folks

  • Team

  • Gang

  • People

  • Y’all

  • Everyone

  • Literally anything else that is non-gendered, even if you don’t believe guys means men.

Happy International Woman’s Day, guys. 

See how ridiculous that sounds.