A single word can make a huge difference. On an increasing number of occasions over the last few months, I have noticed men and women, senior executives to entry level team members, refer to women as girls. You might say what does it matter? It matters a lot.
Why? I remember seeing a promo video of a what I thought was a top-notch speaker. He really impressed me until he slipped--he referred in some way to the women involved in the business as girls. And, he was so unaware of this as a mistake that he included that clip as a demonstration of his best material. Immediately, the red flag went up for me (and most likely for other professionals watching). If he would say this on the record, what else would he say. I realize that my respect and trust for him as a professional suffered. I could not hire or refer him.
In my coaching, I help my clients understand that proper terminology is expected and part of business performance. If you want to be on the top, talk in a manner you expect from someone already at the top. Using respectful terms such as women rather than girls makes you look good and allows you to show respect for others.
1. The first step is "Be Aware." Do you remember the classic marketing formula, AIDA – awareness, interest, desire, and action. In our communications efforts, we strive to move the market to be aware, have interest, desire our product/services, and take action to buy. Use AIDA to change your own communications patterns. Once you have awareness of your behavior, interest (or the intention to communicate in a way that will be inclusive) and desire to change, you will take appropriate action.
2. Old habits are hard to break. My suggestion is use terms that do not connote gender such as leader. Here are some examples:
• I want to thank the leaders who helped with the registration table…
• The staff did a fabulous job
• The committee members were so involved this year
• How can we thank the students for their participation?
3. Surround yourself with people who use proper terminology and who will give you feedback. Do you have a coach, a MasterMind group, or co-workers you can ask to help you?
4. Give others feedback. People appreciate constructive feedback if it is shared with an intent to help. Being silent only confuses --it makes it appear that you approve of this speech.
5. When does a girl become a woman? If she has gone through puberty, she is a woman. When in doubt, call any female a woman. For sure, anyone older than high school is a woman. I was surprised and impressed recently at a Girl Scouts event -- the event leaders called all the girls women. This gave me a wake up call to refer to the members of the troop I lead, 7th and 8th graders, women. We all need reminders and help along the way.
Women and men unite! Get passionate about using the proper terminology. Use the term woman!