The problem with guys

As you’ll already know, this International Women’s Day theme is ‘Breaking the Bias.’

I wanted to focus on an area that I think often gets overlooked.

And that’s the use of language.

One specific word in fact.

Guys.

A couple of years back a colleague of mine was introducing the team on a call with a new client. My colleague referred to the collective as “the guys who’d be working on the project”.

The client highlighted this and made the point that she didn’t like that terminology as there were women in the group and guys was a gender based term.

At first, and in hindsight, somewhat naively I didn’t recognise the issue, having been of the view that it is just a colloquialism used to describe a group of people, irrespective of gender. And in some respects that was true in as much as when I was using the term I wasn’t suggesting that the women were in fact men.

In a strange piece of timing, a few days after that client meeting I read a tweet that stated, if you’re a straight man and you’re happy to replace the word women with guys when describing how many people you’ve had relationships with, then you can go ahead and use that word as gender neutral. If you wouldn’t, then you can see why that word is in fact gender specific.

Ever since then I’ve tried hard not to use the term again and encourage those around me to do the same. 

It is of course just one word and the issue of using language either knowingly or unwittingly that is gender specific is far more widespread than that. It matters because in my experience, in the majority, the gender specific words that get thrown around the workplace are overwhelmingly male oriented. This often subtle bias can make work and social environments less welcoming, less inclusive and less collaborative.

And so for that reason I’m asking you to think how you can support breaking the bias, through the words you choose to use.

Words matter.

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