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6 Casual Statements to Avoid at Work

Watch out for subtle sexism, which can creep into your language and impact your thoughts, even when you don't realize it.

By Alison Green

Have you ever referred to a group of adult women at work as "girls?" Have you suggested to an employee that she soften her approach, so that she doesn't come across as pushy? Have you reflexively asked only women to take notes at meetings? If so, you have a lot of company. Despite major advances in gender equality in the workplace, old pieces of sexism linger.

Here are six common sexist remarks regularly heard at work.

(And to be clear: You're not a bad person for saying these things. We're all guilty of letting these kinds of terms sneak into our language. The idea is to spot them, understand their impact and try to eliminate them from your vocabulary.)


1
"You probably won't come back to work after the baby is born."
People rarely say this to men, but women about to go on maternity leave hear it regularly. Of course, there are women who end up not returning to their jobs after their maternity leave is up, but many, many women who plan to return do so. Lumping women together is problematic, and these kinds of statements can have repercussions for women who are treated as if they'll be taking themselves out of the workforce.


2
"Jane, can you take notes at the meeting?"
It may be perfectly appropriate to ask Jane to take notes if she's an administrative worker or the most junior person present. But too often, women are the ones asked to take notes – or plan parties, get coffee, order lunch or do other caretaking tasks – even when men in the same role or at the same level are present. It's also true that women often tend to volunteer themselves for these tasks while men don't, so it's especially important for managers to make sure that this type of work is distributed evenly and doesn't end up exclusively performed by women.


3
"Girl" or "girls."
It's still common to hear phrases at work, such as "the PR girl" or "the girls are all at lunch." But you rarely hear the "the PR boy" or "the boys are in the conference room." Referring to adult women as "girls" isn't generally intended to be infantilizing or patronizing. But language has power, and girls are rarely taken as seriously as women. And it's worth noting that women can be the worst offenders on this one.

If this one seems minor to you, consider that sexism doesn't have to be open bigotry to have an impact. Some of the most damaging sexism is subtle, the sort of thing that creeps into our language and impacts how we think without us even realizing it. If you're unconvinced, think about women who are universally recognized as having gravitas and power – say, Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel – and ask whether you'd refer to them as "girls." If not, then ask yourself why it's okay to refer to other women that way.

4
"You need to soften your emails and take a gentler approach in meetings."
It's possible that this is genuinely good feedback. But it's been well-documented that women hear this kind of feedback far, far more frequently than men do. In fact, research shows that women are often told that they're being abrasive, aggressive or rude when the same behaviors in men are perceived as assertiveness or strong leadership.

5
"Office Mom."
This term is often used to describe the woman in the office who remembers birthdays, notices when people aren't feeling well, organizes potlucks and generally mothers fellow employees. These are lovely traits. But notice that you rarely hear about an "office Dad." And the reality is that people don't get high-profile projects, win promotions or build their professional reputations by planning office parties or remembering their co-workers' birthdays. Recognize your co-workers for their professional achievements. Don't put them in an "office Mom" ghetto.

6
"The pretty new marketing assistant."
Complimentary or not, assessing people's looks at work is demeaning and takes the focus from their professional contributions. It's not about compliments on their appearance. It's about having people make your looks "A Thing" in a professional context where you need to be taken seriously and known for your brain. It's about routinely being treated as a decorative object, which is very different from a "compliment."

Courtesy: U.S. News & World Report

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