The traditionally male-dominated field of data and analytics poses different challenges for women. The way people talk is one of the most obvious and one that’s easy enough to change.
I’m often asked how equality can be addressed and how to make a difference. My first recommendation is to become more aware of how people speak. Many of us choose words that convey unhelpful underlying assumptions and expectations about gender in the workplace.
The use of ‘guys’ to address a group of men and women is no more inclusive than using ‘gals’ or ‘girls’. Most women I’ve spoken to don’t appreciate being addressed as a ‘guy’ even if it’s now colloquial.
This may not stem from bad intentions, but rather a lack of awareness and many years of having the same types of conversations with the same types of people. Over time, poor habits have made their way into our daily language.
As a first step, ask your team whether they see the use of ‘guys’ as an issue. If not, great. However, if they don’t like the current terminology, change it.
Is the customer always male?
In my role, I get to work with a number of different companies who are part of the wider data eco-system and tech sector. Many conversations focus on the needs of existing and prospective customers.
Often ‘he’ is the pronoun of choice. I understand that the likelihood that a technical contact or a decision maker is a man is pretty high. But until you definitely know that you’re talking to a man, we’re better off using ‘they’ and sometimes even ‘him or her’.
It’s okay to be vague instead of making linguistic gender assumptions in an industry which is so heavily male-dominated and male-focused already.
Is every recruit male?
A similar thing seems to happen when companies recruit new talent – particularly when it comes to technical roles. There’s the expectation that the person being hired will be male.
While most applicants are likely to be male, the wording we choose throughout this process helps to cement these ideas and creates a vicious cycle.
Welcoming the idea that the new engineer could be either a man or a woman and talking about the process along those lines benefits everyone. It helps to deconstruct old biases and makes people involved in the hiring process more aware to choose the language consciously.
Awareness and inclusivity
It may not be immediately obvious how our individual sets of assumptions can be damaging. However, changing the conversation rarely requires more than a little linguistic fine-tuning.
It’s about time we moved towards a more open, balanced and gender-neutral conversation that makes women feel included. A move towards gender equality in an organization and specifically in our sector starts with small steps.
I invite you to be part of it by changing the conversation.