It can be a tricky path to tread, the world of gender and language.
I’ve written regularly on how the words we use, and the words that are used about us as a gender, can undermine our confidence and the impact we want to make. But, to be honest, I often feel I’m teetering on the edge of a dilemma. Or about to make a huge gaffe…
A recent graphic on Twitter put this dilemma sharply into focus for me; it was a piece encouraging people to use different words when writing references for women. In essence it was encouraging the reader to eliminate all the caring type words from the vocabulary and go for more action oriented, skills based words, like assertive, etc. More traditional masculine sounding words, in fact. I was about to retweet it almost on auto pilot (I might even have done but couldn’t find it to reproduce for this post, so suspect not) but it gave me food for thought.
Once again, things that come to women naturally were, it seemed, being downgraded. What is wrong with caring attributes? Do we really not want caring people in the world of work? Why are the different but no less *valuable qualities that women bring to the workforce still not fully valued and recognised and utilised to the full? Why should we have to describe women in traditional male terms for them to be thought good enough? The business benchmark is still white and male. Can we find a middle ground? A gender neutral, more balanced way? Should we try? Or, should we glory in our differences but value them equally and recognise what each brings?
For women to truly succeed in the professional world we need to feel comfortable in our skin. There needs to be congruity, an honesty, between what we do and say at work and who we are in essence, our natures. If we try to suppress that we will always feel slightly wrong footed, slight outsiders, and that wreaks havoc with our confidence levels.
There are differences in how men and women speak, and how we listen; nature or nurture, it doesn’t really matter why. It just is. An understanding from both sides of those differences can only improve our powers of communication at work, and our work opportunities. We may make conscious designs to change our style on occasions, to make sure our points are heard, but being aware of it is key.
The first step is to understand our own biases around language. Most of it is unconscious so it’s not easy. Here’s an exercise to try: For a couple of days try to pay attention to how language, words, are used in your organisation. It’s not a blame game; just take time to observe and listen well. We’re all products of our environment and socialisation, men just as much as women. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take back some control and change. Knowledge is key. Understanding improves communication and builds more confidence; two essential attributes in helping get more women like you into key roles in business.
In the next post we’ll look at body language and posture and what that message that may be giving out, whether we realise it or not. If you want to be sure of seeing it why not sign up below and get them delivered to your in box?
*The value of gender balanced teams to business has been well documented. Businesses make more money when they have women and men in key roles. See here for more information.
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Part One is here: Are You gender Bi Lingual? (Menglish?)
Posted on January 26th, 2016 by Jane