Sexism does exist and you can find it in every type of business and industry. Some people intend to be overtly sexist and hold beliefs that are counter-productive to closing the wage gap and ending gender discrimination in the workplace.
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However, let’s assume that most people working in professional settings do not intend to say sexist remarks or be offensive at work. Unfortunately, it still happens. Many of these phrases have become a habit and are outdated, but we fail to see them in the context of today’s culture.
All professionals need to be aware of how seemingly innocent conversation can actually be sexist remarks. It goes a long way to improving one’s emotional intelligence and professionalism. More importantly, we can start replacing them with words that uplift and encourage women.
Are you saying any of the following sexist remarks without realizing it?
Referring to Women as “Girls”
Men and women can get in the habit of calling women girls.
“The girls and I are going out for lunch.”
“Ask one of the girls if they can help.”
We don’t tend to call men boys, so why are women so often called girls? You’d be more likely to say “guys” than boys.
The popular “Girl Boss” culture doesn’t really help with this particular sexist remark.
Referring to things being done “like a girl.”
Saying something is being done “like a girl” is typically a derogatory comparison. “You throw like a girl” or “Don’t cry like a girl.” It’s just not appropriate to compare something that you are perceiving as negative to how a girl would do it. Words and phrases that describe women as being weak should just be eliminated. It’s sexist. Plain and simple.
“Just Man Up”
Just as referring to women as girls or doing things like a girl, saying “man up” implies that in order to be tough you have to be like a man. This isn’t true, women are tough too. Eliminate this phrase from your vocabulary
“How do you balance it all?”
Asking a career mother how she “balances it all” can come across as doubting her abilities. Let’s be honest, when was the last time anyone asked a man, “Wow, how co you balance it all with having a career AND being a dad?” It’s a double standard that needs to go.
The flip side of this double standard is assuming women need more flex time to priotize family and work but not giving the same opportunity to men. It is also sexist to assume that a man does not need to take time for his family because his wife can pick up the kids, or go on the field trip, or stay home with a sick child. All parents should be able to fairly prioritize work and family and not be penalized for it.
“You Look Tired”
This dovetails off of “how do you balance it all?” Working mothers are expected to work like they dont’ have a family and have a family like they don’t have a career. There is a lot of pressure on women to do it all. Women are also expected, more than men, to spend time on their appearance every day. Do their hair, apply make-up, etc. Commenting that a woman looks tired can come across as if you are implying she didn’t spend enough time looking presentable. It’s insulting.
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Everyone, of any gender, has been tired at different points in their lives. It is not appropriate to point it out to someone at work unless you are very concerned for their health and it has nothing to do with their gender or how much make-up they are wearing.
Equally important to avoiding sexist remarks and behavior is to avoid commenting on people’s appearance in general. Or at least to not be overly focused on it. This should include weight, age, clothing style, etc. Women are held under a much more critical microscope than men when it comes to how they dress in the work place. This especially holds true to women who have a public presence in the media. People comment much more on how female public figures dress than their male counterparts.
Along with balancing it all and looking good, women are often told to “smile more.” Men are very seldom told this compared to women. Why does our culture also assume women should be happy all of the time? The same standard does not apply to men. If someone you know looks legitimately unhappy, a more appropriate and supportive thing to say would be to ask if they are ok and if there is something you can do to help.
Calling someone “sweetheart”, “dear”, etc.
Nicknames and pet names are not really appropriate in a professional setting at all. Using demeaning ones like “dear” is insulting and sexist. If you woulndn’t use it with a male co-worker than it’s best to assume you shouldn’t use it with a female co-worker either. Stick to people’s actual names and you won’t run the risk of using sexist remarks.
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Sexist Remarks: The Wrap Up
Sexism is a very real problem that is ingrained in our culture in many subtle and obvious ways. This article only touches on a few phrases that people may be using without realizing they are sexist. It is by no means complete but hopefully it does start conversations and helps people be more aware of the language and terms we use that need to shift in order to support and encourage all people of all genders to be successful and valued employees and members of society.
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