The listing on the Conservative Party's new website of health team member Caroline Spelman as both 'spokesperson' and 'spokesman' (monitor, 21 October) is reminiscent of the confusion throughout the NHS about whether terms such as 'spokesman' or 'chairman' are sexist or not.

The answer lies in how the word is seen by most of the audience for the communication - not only because offending people does little to get our message across effectively, but because language, to an extent, conditions habitual thought. Using terms not thought of as gender neutral reinforces subconscious expectations about men and women.

For example, referring to consultants in general as 'the chaps' or to secretaries in general as 'the girls' reinforces the subconscious expectations that these roles will be filled by men and by women respectively.

'Spokesman' and 'chairman' are among many terms that are less clear-cut in whether or not they have a masculine connotation.

What is needed here is frank discussion in which NHS staff and others are able to speak their mind on what language they find acceptable, and on what they do not.

The considered use of language can be a valuable tool for managers in bringing about greater equality of opportunity, and with it all the associated organisational benefits.

Sarah Carr Warrington