Recently I’ve been watching Channel Ten’s reality show Shark Tank, in which nervous entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to a panel of “sharks” (successful millionaire businesspeople) with the hopes of securing investment. During the pitching process, I’ve noticed a contestant refer to one of the two female Sharks as “darling” on more than one occasion. I just can’t understand this. I mean, you wouldn’t walk into a room to pitch to Richard Branson and say “Hey stud, have I got a product for you!”
It’s a phenomenon I’ve come across in the workplace time and time again. This persistent belief that it is reasonable to use dismissive or overly familiar parlance with women, but not men, that you work with.
Another thing that irks a lot of people is that fully-grown women are often referred to as “girls” (as in “go and see the girls in accounts”). Newsflash: This is infantilising and insulting, and we don’t appreciate it. We’re not in primary school, so don’t treat us as such.
In addition to this, referring to groups of women as “girls” or “ladies” implies that the gender distinction is an important signifier. I’d much rather refer to groups in a non-gender specific way, as in “go and see the team in accounts”. This might seem overly PC, but I think that symbolism is important and subtle changes like this can help change people’s mindsets in a significant way.
I realise that I may have had a different experience to many Canberrans in that I have primarily worked in the private sector rather than the public service. I heard a great story about a job applicant losing the opportunity to be considered for a public sector job because he referred to the secretary as “honeybun,” and I applaud that decision. If I were an investor on Shark Tank, I’d like to think I would refuse to work with anyone who thought it was appropriate to use language like that with me.
But I’m interested to hear your views and experiences. What are your pet peeves for inappropriate language in the workplace? How does this language differ in the public and private sectors? Let me know in the comments!