The word “girl” is ingrained in our vocabulary as a friendly word. “Who’s the new girl?” seems innocent, but referring to a woman as “girl” in the workplace has a bigger impact than you might think; it frames her as less competent and makes her less likely to be taken seriously.
Why does this
Gender bias is stubborn, but we can all do our part by calling out the small moments that contribute to larger issues. Did you know that women in leadership roles are more likely than men at the same level to be mistaken for someone more junior? The authority of women is called into question much more frequently than their male counterparts. That’s why we’ve launched #awomannotagirl campaign; instead of just groaning to ourselves, we want to spark a conversation about the often-overlooked mistake of calling women girls in the workplace. In celebration of Women’s History Month 2023, let’s start here together - we’re inviting anyone and everyone to participate.
How do I
Find a picture of you as a little girl (extra points for unfortunate haircuts and hilariously outdated fashions)
Post this picture on LinkedIn with a caption like: You could call me a girl back then but not anymore. Ending gender bias in the workplace starts with calling me a woman. #awomannotagirl
Feel free to add your own experience or point of view in your caption about why this matters.
Don’t forget to add #awomannotagirl to join the conversation as see all those who have joined as well!
Why Micro-aggressions matter.
Did you know women leaders are switching jobs at the highest rate ever reported? When asked why they’ve chosen to step away, many women have cited not the most obvious or traumatic indignities, but rather small things that added up over time. These subtle forms of discrimination can create a hostile work environment and make it more difficult for women to succeed and feel valued in their jobs.
Modernizing how we address
women at work.
Calling an adult woman “girl” in the workplace has managed to fly under the radar as a simple yet powerful microaggression. Many of us use “girl” in professional settings without even realizing it. When held up against other gendered issues (unequal pay, sexual harassment and assault, lack of leadership opportunities) subtly biased language can seem like a low value target. At the same time, the research is very clear: gendered language impacts women’s opportunities (see World Bank study), and these loaded words actively cast women in subordinate roles. Even in casual conversation, the words we use matter, and language shapes our thoughts. By drawing attention to the harmful reality of microaggressions, we can grow together toward a more productive, thoughtful work language that builds women up.
Women leaders are more than 1.5 times as likely as men at their level to have left a previous job because they wanted to work for a company that was more committed to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
42% of women report facing some type of gender discrimination in the workplace. (Source: Pew Research Center)
Women leaders are twice as likely as men leaders to be mistaken for someone more junior. (Source: McKinsey)
Suggestion for language
to use instead:
“I try to handle the situation in a friendly and non-combative way. When they say, ‘There is a new girl who just started in accounting,’ I repeat back: ‘There is a new woman who just started in accounting,’ and then I smile to emphasize the point as gentle feedback.”
– Angelique Bellmer Krembs
“No need to sugarcoat the obvious. When you hear this, say, ‘There are no girls in the workplace.’ How you say it matters. Tailor your language to the audience. Some appreciate hearing it straight and others may need a more nuanced conversation. But calling out the language in the moment makes a powerful statement and brings about positive behavior change.”
– Mitzi Short
"I handle this situation with humor: When they say, 'did you meet the new girl in accounting,' I say 'repeat what you just said but substitute boy for girl.' When they start to say 'did you meet the new boy...' they can't even say it without laughing because it sounds ridiculous."
– Cie Nicholson
The people behind this inititative:
The Band of Sisters is a group of six executive-level women who have seen it all, from the bottom rung to the boardroom, in over twenty industries. Collectively, they have held the titles of CEO, CMO, SVP, Board Member, Executive Coach and Investor. During their careers they have experienced gender bias firsthand and know how hard it is to navigate these frustrating situations. Together, they’ve written You Should Smile More: How to Dismantle Gender Bias in the Workplace. The book is a practical guide to the many microaggressions women face at work, and it offers realistic ways in which every witness can productively address them. They hope the book will help women to advance in the corporate workplace and aid organizations on the path to creating cultures of inclusion.
You Should Smile More: How to Dismantle Gender Bias in the Workplace empowers women and men to unlock a culture of greatness in the workforce—one little thing at a time. Written by six C-suite women with a collective resume covering 29 industries, the book offers a completely new lens through which to talk about and tackle the stubborn remnants of gender bias at work.