There are a number of subtle ways women are treated differently from men in the workplace, whether its enduring harsh judgment for their appearence or being seen as overly emotional when they show anger.
Here are six things people should stop saying around women to help lessen these biases in the workplace.
1. “The girls in the finance department are doing a great job.”
Just as most men would be insulted if their coworkers referred to them or one of their colleagues as a “boy,” it’s demeaning to describe a full-grown adult woman as a “girl.”
Former Wall Street Journal deputy managing editor Joanne Lipman writes that this terminology is insulting, even if it is used while praising a female colleague or employee.
“This is one of the trickiest issues we face at work,” Lipman writes in an essay for WSJ. “It’s known as ‘benevolent sexism.’ It is the comment that seems innocuous or even complimentary but which unwittingly reinforces negative stereotypes.”
2. “As a woman …”
Even if you’re coming from a place of good intentions, like asking for a female executive’s opinion on a new sexual harassment policy, making it clear that you’re asking her because she is a woman can single her out in an unpleasant way, especially if you’re doing it in a public setting.
As we’ve written before, no group is a monolith, so it’s probably not the most helpful to extrapolate one person’s opinion across an entire gender.
3. “You look cute in that skirt.”
While complimenting a coworker on their appearance might seem innocuous, it can be seen as having a sexual intent if your colleague can’t read your body language or tone when you say it.
As such, it’s best to just skip these remarks in order to avoid making your colleague uncomfortable.
This is doubly true if you have management responsibilities, as your female employees might interpret this sort of remark to mean you are evaluating them based on how they look rather than their job performance.
4. “Stop being so emotional.” or “Calm down.”
Comments like these play into the stereotype that women are incapable of making sound, logical decisions because they are too personally invested in their work, Dartmouth business school professor Ella Bell tells Diversity Inc.
Bell recalls being upset that a male colleague told her that she wears her heart on her sleeve.
“I interpreted it as my work wasn’t making intellectual sense,” Bell tells Diversity Inc.
5. “She can be kind of bossy.”
Research shows that the word “bossy” is used to describe women significantly more often than it is men, a reflection of what some people say is an inherent bias against assertive women in leadership roles.
For this reason, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, Beyoncé, and other female leaders have encouraged people to stop using the word.
If you find yourself describing a female colleague as “bossy,” take a moment to think about whether you would use the same word to describe a male coworker who was exhibiting similar behaviour.
6. “The best woman to ever…” or “She’s really good at XYZ, for a woman.”
While you might think you’re complimenting a coworker by calling her the best woman to ever work in your company’s engineering department, doing so indicates that you feel the category of “best engineer” is one women aren’t good enough to be considered for.
“I hate being referred to as ‘that very accomplished woman leader,'” former BAE Systems CEO Linda Hudson tells The Wall Street Journal.
If you really want to show your appreciation for a coworkers talents, you will call her one of the company’s best performers, period.
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