to address harassment, bullying and discrimination

 with Stephen Hammond

Tip #2 — LOOK TO PARALLELS FOR APPROPRIATE LANGUAGE

When it comes to terminology around gender, people are often surprised at words that may cause a problem...men especially are surprised. Take for example, the word "girl." While phrases like "you go girl!" and "girl power" create a positive image, overall "girl" tends to be a negative in the workplace. "For that information, go see the girl at reception," some will say. If a man is at the same reception desk, how likely would we say, "For that information, go see the boy at reception"? Perhaps only if it's "Bring Your Child to Work Day."

 

Sure, men and women will still use "girls' night out" and "boys' night out," or "the boys are getting together tonight" and "the girls are going to a movie this weekend." But when using words regarding gender, consider the parallels. If you'd use "boy" for a man in the same way you'd use "girl" for a woman, you're usually safe. If not, refer to adult men as men and adult women as women.

 

The interesting thing about language is that it changes...and not just over several generations.  It can change in a matter of a few years.  More than 10 years ago, in my first book, I wrote how the term guys, as in "you guys," was being used a lot for referring to either gender. I wrote that the female parallel of "guys" is "gals," but you'd never hear people addressing a group of men and women with "See you gals later." If there is so much as one man in the group, you'll get laughter and comments, guaranteed. Using "guys" in a mixed group, used to  grab some attention, but it doesn't seem to any more.

 

I know there are still some women who don't like to be referred to as "you guys," but fewer of them are voicing their opposition to it.  I knew its usage was common when I saw U.S. President Barack Obama refer to his two daughters as "you guys."  I have to confess that I still avoid using "guys" when it's a mixed crowd, but I certainly don't get on a soap box to scold people for using the term.

 

If you find women who don't like to be called "guys," I'd suggest going back to the old fashion way of referring to more than one person, such as using "everyone" or similar words.  However, there are plenty of times where we still need to be aware of parallels in our language.

 

SUPERVISORY SUGGESTIONS:

1) Pay attention to gender words - when you notice words that treat women differently (i.e. not appropriate) correct it. "Girl" might be the least of your problem when some men at your workplace use "bitch" when referring to a woman (even today). There's no need for truly offensive words towards women, even in a male dominated workplace.

 

2) Consider swearing - some guys will swear up a storm and when a woman is present, they'll change their behaviour. Swearing on its own is not always a problem. Yet many times men who don't like certain swear words will put up with them, just to fit in. Have a discussion about swearing with employees to find out people's true feelings about it. Certainly get rid of swearing that offends (based on race, religion, sex, etc.) and then find out which other words are causing problems.

 

3) Watch your own behaviour - you can make the greatest impact by making sure women and men are treated equally. Your words will be noticed by others.

This is TIP #2 of 52 WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors. 
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