First: "gender inclusive" vs "gender neutral" - are they the same thing?
Second: Should you aim for gender inclusive or neutral?
The matter is complicated by the fact that terms are gendered by social convention, meaning that what is a gender neutral term for one person might be heavily gendered to another. And there are even gendered terms (almost always masculine) which are commonly used as if they were gender neutral, even though they convey a gender.
A good rule of thumb is to try putting the term into a question like “how many X have you had sex with?”. Does your brain consider the resulting sentence to be the same as “how many people have you had sex with?”. Even people who earnestly assure me that they consider “dude” to be completely gender neutral then say that “dude” does not pass this test for them. If a term becomes gendered when you start relating it to sex or dating, do not treat it as a genderless term.
“Folks” is a good casual option when referring to a group, especially one where there isn’t a clear connecting term. In a formal setting, “gentlepeople”/”gentlepersons” has been suggested as a genderless alternative to “gentlemen and gentlewomen”. “Esteemed guests/audience” also conveys formality and respect without referencing gender at all.
Do you have a favourite genderless greeting or term? Share it in the comments!