The girls, language, and self-limiting beliefs

It started with my tweet:

“Today’s interesting moment. Me & @Geeta_nanda being asked “ooh what do you two girls do in the organisation”? Sort of funny, sort of sad”

And there’s been quite a bit of twitter, DM, Facebook, PM Etc convos this evening. So I figured it was worthy of a more nuanced explanation.

It was innocuous enough, but really made me think. It was a bright young woman who’s a doing a temp sales job in an outpost from the main office. So no reason why she *should* have known us. But actually rather hilarious, and I felt bad for her, when we explained we were a CEO and an Exec Director. But that’s not really the interesting thing.

It was the “girls” thing that really struck me. Use of the diminutive form for women in the workplace is part of the language of power. Or more pertinently the language of disempowerment of women. When it’s so commonplace that even the bright young women who are our future use it, it relights my feminist fire. The job is not yet done.

Language belies much. If we believe that folks of either gender can do a great leadership job, we need a language that gives our daughters the sense that they can achieve greatness. Not the self-limiting belief that “the girls” giggle a lot, and only carry out supportive functions.

There are many roles infrequently filled by women. In my worlds, that’s property development and web tech. So much of the language slips lazily into the masculine form. And the gendered-diminutive for the female form. Language reveals the assumption that the next team member will be male.

There’s so much more than one late night blog post (tapped out on an iPhone), I could write on the subject of gender inequality in the workplace. But for now, I’ll stick to the detail on language.

This is a gender issue for all of us, not just the flag-waving feminists. [edit: I should add here, that I count myself as one of the flag-waving feminists]

Fathers, how do you want your daughters to feel about themselves as they grow up and join the workplace? If you want them to have the same sense of ambition as your sons, you have to start creating a workplace culture where that can happen. And it starts with small things like not perpetuating the “the girls” stuff. So either stop it yourselves, or call it out when you hear it.

And women. We need to be grown up about our ambition, and crack on with doing a good job. And not perpetuate the bollocks. Call it out, and move on.

Silence means you’re part of the problem. And I’ve been too quiet for too long (me, silent… Unlikely I know).

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