Be careful what you say: Language can be a powerful tool for perpetuating gender stereotypes
Bossy. Feisty. Emotional. Shrill. Abrasive. Ball-busting. All these words, which are primarily used to describe females, have the power to impact the way we view women in the workplace.
“There are a lot of coded words that we use in our everyday language that actually reinforce gender stereotypes and biases, and we don’t even realise it,” said New York City-based diversity and inclusion consultant and speaker, Janice Gassam. “It’s important for us to evaluate the things we say in a professional setting and in an informal setting,” she added.
Negative words which seep into conversations are placing an unfair bias against women and can give the impression that women are less capable than men.
“Language does inform our thinking,” agreed Melissa Montang, head of marketing and communications at Melbourne, Australia-based Businessary. “We are doing ourselves a disservice if we use words that place an unfairly negative connotation on women.”
Montang would like to see bad behaviour called out without the use of gender labels, such as “queen bee.”
“Ask yourself, would you say that about a man?” she advised. “A workplace bully is a bully, regardless of gender.”
Consistent workplace training can be beneficial to help business owners and staff examine the words they are using on a daily basis and to understand the impact of those words, according to Gassam.
She recommends using a software platform to alert employees when gendered language is being used insidiously in a job advertisement or performance review, for example.
“Job ads for the financial sector use a lot of subtle, masculine language which may deter females from applying,” said Gassam.
Gassam encourages all of us to speak out about negative words used to describe women, in and out of the workplace.
“If we normalise those words in everyday speech, they are more likely to be used in the workplace too,” she explained.
Montang added: “The point isn’t to call people out but to take them with us on this journey of being more aware and making others feel respected.”
Gassam is the founder of BWG Business Solutions, a business that specialises in helping companies grow stronger through diversity and inclusion.