The Unconscious Bias Towards Male Names, Pronouns, and Traits in our Conversations

Everyday we create and share stories about customers, team members, and even made-up people in hypothetical situations. We also have a tonne of conversations with the people around us – customers, team mates, friends, family, and so on. Have you ever paused to listen to the names, pronouns, and way you ascribe gender to certain traits in your language (or how others do it)?

How many of us have said, “I got a guy…” in response to someone asking for a connection? Or made up a hypothetical story about “Steve” who wants to send money overseas? Has someone entered a room and said, “Hey guys…?” Or ever told someone who’s looking for courage to “man up?” I know I’ve done all of these.

A colleague and I were chatting recently about allyship which led me to share that part of our conversation here (thanks Mike for the inspiration). We arrived at a conclusion that a lot of what people say today perpetuates male focus in our thinking and language and can create feelings of exclusion. It may seem benign to some (“It’s only a story…”) but think about the impact on girls and boys who grow up hearing phrases and stories where the male gender is the main one featured. And not just one here or there, but countless conversations throughout multiple decades.

This seems massive, how do we even begin to tackle it?

It starts with you. Be aware and intentional about the choices you make about the language you use.

The next time you tell a hypothetical story, make your characters women: “Let’s say Franca runs a company which is about to expand internationally and she needs to start settling in multiple currencies….” When you’re addressing a group, choose “folks” or “everyone” (“y’all” maybe?). If someone is looking for support, offer words of encouragement that leaves gender out of it (“You got this!” is a go-to of mine).

It may seem small, but a bunch of small changes today bring about a much larger change tomorrow.

#WordsMatter #MensAllyship #UnconsciousBias

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