“Dear Audians”: VW employees complain against gender language

“Dear Audians”
VW employees complain against gender language

If language is changed due to instructions from above, this often ends in heated discussions. A VW employee does not want to be addressed in a gender-sensitive manner and complains. The plaintiff is financially supported by an association that is controversial among experts.

“Audians” or “Audians”? A Volkswagen employee takes this question to court. He does not want him to be addressed using gender-neutral language in some of the Group’s joint committees in the future. The VW subsidiary Audi issued a guideline with the new specification in March. The plaintiff is now demanding that the car manufacturer refrain from telling its employees to use the gender rules. The lawsuit is part of the heated debate about how to properly address the sexes, which is sometimes a culture war. More and more universities, authorities and companies are using gender-sensitive language.

Recently, Lufthansa announced that it would not greet “Dear Sir or Madam” on the plane. The crews should rather welcome the guests with gender-neutral formulations. Deutsche Bahn followed suit. Everyone should be addressed, which is why gender-equitable formulations such as “Dear guests” would be preferred, said a spokeswoman for the “Bild” newspaper.

Changes like these not only meet with enthusiasm, but also cause a lot of swipes in social networks. There is also discussion about the introduction of so-called gender spellings, i.e. spellings that address men and women as well as people who do not feel they belong to either the male or the female gender. There is the gender asterisk (“students”) or the underscore (“citizens”).

Use of gender rules

Even the supermarket around the corner can spark a gender discussion. This was recently experienced by an Edeka store in Friedberg near Augsburg when it announced on its Facebook page that it had added the product “Student Food” to its range. Numerous comments showed how polarizing the topic is. “The first step in the right direction,” wrote one user; “Something like that really pisses me off …” another. The market remained calm with the controversy. The expert Philipp Rauschnabel says: “Anyone who changes consciously and obviously has to expect positive and negative reactions.” The professor teaches digital marketing and media innovation at the Bundeswehr University in Munich and believes that ultimately the supplier of the nut mix will most likely benefit from the discussion.

Audi is meanwhile not only facing comments in social networks, but is also feeling the discomfort in society and in its own ranks with the injunction from a legal point of view. The plaintiff complains: As a Volkswagen employee, he has to work with colleagues from Audi and will be confronted with the directive there, explains lawyer Burkhard Benecken. So his client is addressed in joint bodies using the gendered terms. The plaintiff is therefore demanding that Audi refrain from instructing its employees to use the gender rules. Benecken thinks that an employer cannot impose such requirements on his employees. “You can’t specify the language specifically.”

The underscore notation introduced by the car manufacturer is also used by the “Diversity Charter”, an initiative with the aim of “promoting the recognition, appreciation and inclusion of diversity in the working world in Germany”. Member companies include Deutsche Post, Siemens, BASF, Adidas – and also Audi. “We recommend using gender-appropriate language, but how this is implemented is up to you,” says the initiative’s spokesman, Stephan Dirschl. The charter does not issue an official recommendation as to whether companies should use underscores or asterisks in their communications. Audi does not want to comment on the lawsuit itself. Spokesman Joachim Cordshagen defends the language guide: “Gender-sensitive language is an expression of a visible, positive attitude towards diversity and equal opportunities.”

Support of a controversial club

The plaintiff is financially supported by the disputed German language association in Dortmund, which does not believe in “gender nonsense”. The club’s chairman, Walter Krämer, does not shy away from historical comparisons during the fight: “Imposing a language that has no legal basis is strongly reminiscent of injustice systems such as that of the GDR or of dystopias such as Orwell’s” 1984 “.”

The Society for German Language in Wiesbaden, on the other hand, “expressly supports efforts to ensure that all genders are treated equally in terms of language,” as it says on its website. It is true that she is critical of the gender asterisk or other gender forms that lead to grammatical or orthographically incorrect forms – “but not gender itself”.

The German Spelling Council, the authoritative body for questions of orthography, shares the concerns. The use of special characters could lead to subsequent problems and grammatically incorrect solutions. At the end of March, the experts decided that, for the time being, gender star and underscore would not be allowed to use the German language, at least officially. The committee intends to continue to monitor the development of writing use for the time being.

Judgment could be a long time coming

As a survey by the Munich-based Ifo Institute and the personnel service provider Randstad shows among HR managers, almost every third German company uses gender-neutral language. According to the survey carried out at the beginning of July, companies mainly use them in their external communication (35 percent). They only use 25 percent within their own company walls. Large companies use gender-sensitive language more often than small ones.

The introduction of gender-equitable spelling is not enough, says Charter spokesman Dirschl. Because it is actually about much more than a change of language – namely a gender-equitable society. “We believe that language is the most effective means of initiating changes in consciousness,” says Dirschl. That must be the goal. “It’s not about fully and one hundred percent gender. It’s about setting accents to show that diversity is possible in all areas.”

How long it will take to reach a verdict in the Audi case is unclear. There is no trial date yet, and civil lawsuits in particular can be protracted. According to the court, written preliminary proceedings will be conducted first.