If someone at work told you to ‘act like a man’ what kind of behaviour would you think the person wants to see? Risk-taking? Courage? Decisiveness? Confidence? Assertiveness?
Let’s change the words slightly. What if the same person told you to ‘stop acting like a woman’. What kind of behaviours are they expecting you to stop doing? Stop being cautious or hesitant? Stop underestimating yourself and your abilities? Stop putting others first?
The phrase ‘stop acting like a woman’ came up in conversation with my business partner yesterday. She was sharing an anecdote of a senior female who had talked herself out of applying for a more senior role within her organization. A more senior male colleague called the woman to tell her that plenty of her male counterparts were applying for the role and that she should ’stop being a woman and just go for it’. The words had an instant impact on the woman. She did apply for the role and ultimately was successful.
There are different ways to view that situation. One perspective is that the woman was inspired to take action. That is definitely positive.
Another way is to react with anger – how dare someone use the phrase ‘being a woman’ as an insult!
An alternative perspective is to dig a bit deeper into what the person actually meant. Rather than guess at the behaviours he expected, asking for an explanation of what he meant might have lead to a useful discussion that perhaps both parties could have learned from. This option is the one most likely to create an inclusive environment.
Regardless of your gender, being told to act like a man or stop acting like a woman, is likely to have conjured up some images or feelings about expected behaviours. Language and how we use it matters greatly when we want to create an inclusive workplace.
Already I can hear the familiar voices: ‘it’s political correctness gone mad!’ or ‘what’s wrong with saying it how it is?’ and other similar phrases.
Being mindful of the language we use is not political correctness, it’s a vital aspect to creating an environment of inclusivity.
I’ll share one piece of information from McKinsey’s research on why diversity matters. They found that in the UK there was a 3.5% increase in earnings before interest and taxes with every 10% increase in gender diversity. Not bad eh?
Diversity & inclusion go hand in hand. Diverse workforces who aren’t encouraged to share opinions will have little impact on the profits of their employer. To leverage diversity and create an organizational advantage you have to foster a culture and environment of inclusivity.
As an inclusive leader you need to be aware of unconscious bias. You have to actively encourage your teams to speak up and voice their opinions, even if they are unpopular or controversial. An inclusive leader takes the time to understand their team and why they behave in certain ways. They’re more open to asking questions about someone’s reluctance to apply for a role in order to enable that person to see the benefits and opportunities for themselves.
Whether your organisation’s aims and drivers are financial or growth or innovation or value or anything else the evidence points to diversity and inclusion as a way of getting you there.
In his article for Forbes, Lars Schmidt writes “Becoming an inclusive employer takes deliberate effort and commitment”. For me, this includes a deliberate effort and commitment to utilize language that includes rather than angers or alienates.
At Mumager we enable organisations to thrive through diversity and inclusion. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you to create an inclusive environment contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org