Communication is an integral part of workplace culture. In the previous instalment of this workplace vocabulary series, I mentioned how language softeners is one of the sure shot ways of achieving gender parity.
A very basic solution and the first of many steps in this journey of creating inclusive workplaces is by making gender-less vocabulary the norm.
Doing away with language softeners should be a workplace thing – not a gender thing.
Communication styles, approachability and friendliness in conduct should matter for everyone – not just women. So here’s how we can start the journey to gender parity.
No more gender-propelled language
‘Can you fetch the coffee, honey’
‘Let’s do this man-to-man’
‘Can she deal with the hospitality? She’s just so good with communicating’
I’ve noticed a very unconscious trend in the various places that I’ve worked at. There always seems to be a very clear division of roles when it comes to jobs other than the individual’s job descriptions.
Manual labour like lifting and shifting chairs, adjusting tables, organising anything mechanical is expected of the men in the office. As opposed to jobs like dealing with the hospitality, pouring beverages, and serving food is more often than not given to the women in the team.
Building on from the fact that leadership is socially defined in male terms – conventional workplace vocabulary also stems from dated male-dominated industries and workspaces.
Generally, male-centric lingo was also largely derived from sports, war, and machinery – all of which were traditionally male dominated spheres. But the times have changed and the functionality aspect of this equation is yet to get there.
This was the time when women only occupied traditionally ‘feminine’ and nurturing roles in the workplace – secretaries, assistants, receptionists, waitresses, etc. Which is perhaps where terminology like ‘honey’ or ‘baby’ or ‘love’ or the seemingly nice ‘sweet thing’ gained popularity. Needless to say this nomenclature percolated through the generations and arrived at 2020 only to be called problematic.
The same goes for terms like ‘guys’. There’s so much literature surrounding ‘guys’ that refers to how it excludes a better part of the workforce.
Consciously excluding such gender-propelled terminologies from the workplace vocabulary is certainly a significant step of the process.
No more bro-codes
‘So we have a gentleman’s agreement’
‘He is my wingman’
‘I can depend on him because he is my right hand man’
‘Bros before…’ well nobody, because gender parity ensures everyone is ranked by virtue of their competence and not their gender.
Postulating this vocabulary comes with its own sexist baggage. This reinforces the idea that the workplace is simply a man cave – like any other jaded battleground or male locker room. Except, with coffee machines.
Nomenclature of this kind not only defies everything that inclusivity stands for but also implies a sense of unfair subordination and an implicit power structure.
This certainly alludes more to hierarchical corporate workplace structures. But with the rise of startups and women-led organisations, it’s become incredibly significant to address the complexities that language and communication brings with it.
A recent workplace linguistic research suggests this difference between the ‘I’ language – agentic and the ‘we’ language - communal. While men in positions of power are expected to communicate in the agentic language, women – due to their conventionally ‘feminine’ workplace role stereotypes; are implored to make use of the communal language.
No more gendered-feedback
‘I don’t like this’
‘You need to be more friendly’
‘At times, you come off too bossy’
‘You need to be more open and more approachable’
It’s important to include this feedback for everyone in the workplace. Everyone needs to be approachable, everyone needs to be friendly and nurturing. Let’s make this a workplace norm - not a gender one.
The norms for behaviour, communication styles and code of conduct take precedence over professional achievements and skill sets for women. This emphasis translates itself in the manner that women in the workplace are made to receive professional feedback as well.
While the appraisals’ and feedback process for men is centred in their work – their skills, and their job performances; research suggests that women, more often than not receive more feedback on their code of conduct and their manner of communication.
This certainly does not go to show that these things aren’t important enough. In fact, they are so important, that the male counterpart of the workforce must be regulated on their behaviour with as much emphasis as women are.
So how about we urge the importance of friendliness and nurturing compassion in men too, instead of asking women to give it up altogether. Because a friendly and favourable environment – regardless of the gender of its leader, makes for a much more positive workforce.
Exclaim in person – Not on mail
Language softeners are not just modes of verbal communication. They’ve taken up ample space in the digital communication territory as well, for women.
Working in an organisation that caters to women and all their career needs, I have the opportunity of interacting with various women in different stages of their career. And I have lost the count of times these interactions have surfaced the grouse of being asked to ‘communicate more professionally’.
Women, as the stereotype goes, email differently than men. They’re more personable and less persuasive. They apologise more, use qualifiers and permission words like
‘I feel’, and
And then come the infamous exclamation points.
Several studies have found that women, on average, use more exclamation points in their digital communication than men. This fulfils and builds on the likeability trap. It appears soft, amateurish, leaves room for people to not take them seriously. Or so is the consensus.
But as true as it is, these are highly gendered notions, which threaten the idea of inclusivity rather unconsciously.
So why not implore everyone to email in a manner that is more fluid.
Having said that, real empowerment would be not having to think about how we come across at all. But gender-less universal language softeners would be a good place to start.