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Louise Ripley

Gender Issues in Management

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Language that Silences Sometimes the very lack of language is most offensive

5 men and 1 woman sitting around a table "That's an excellent suggestion, Ms. Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it." 
(from Punch magazine)

How many women have been at this table?! I certainly have - in my doctoral studies and in my job here at York University. But I don't put up with it. I point out the error, sometimes politely, sometimes by banging my fist on the table, once, in despair over the lack of any real progress in the acceptance of women as a norm in academia, I banged my head on the table. 

waving hand Exercise
Ms Triggs
Describe a work related situation where you have been or seen someone silenced, including how it made you feel and how you think it made others feel. What could a good manager have done to help the situation?
Post your answer in the Moodle Discussion Group.

Language That Sets Up Separate Expectations

In a section of this course, a student emailed me to ask me to reappraise her paper, something which I don't do and which I explain very carefully why I don't do in my course kit. When I told her that I would not do this, she wrote me back, saying, "I'm sure you're a very nice person, but when you refuse to [do what a student asks], you're not being very nice." "Being Nice" has nothing to do with a professor's professional life. This is an accusation that is regularly hurled at female professors whenever we try to enforce the same standards of student behaviour that our male colleagues expect from their students. As it is described by one woman in the film, The Chilly Climate, made in Ontario about discrimination against women, minorities, and the disabled in universities and colleges, if we refuse to do things for students that none of our male colleagues do we are accused of being not nice women. If we do those things, we are so overwhelmed with the work that we don't have time to research and publish and we don't get tenure. Don't say things to female professors that you would not also say to male professors; we have the same jobs and the same expectations of our performance in those jobs. Don't expect your professor to be extra "nice" just because she's a woman. 

One of the frequent complaints of women in positions of authority in middle or upper management is the tendency of men to greet them with compliments on their appearance. A male manager, meeting a fellow male manager will say something like, "Hey, how about those Jays last night, eh?" But on meeting a female fellow manager, is much more likely to say something like, "that's a great colour on you," or "Your hair sure looks nice today." 

waving hand Exercise
Pretty Hair
What is actually wrong with a male manager greeting a female colleague or subordinate with a comment about her dress or hair? Stop and think before you answer. If you're going to say, "There's nothing wrong with it," the majority of women in management will disagree with you. Given that it may be a problem, what is the problem here with this kind of greeting?
Post your answer in the Moodle Discussion Group.

Language That Excludes

"Men" and "Man" or "Mankind" are NOT inclusive terms. Don't use them if you really mean to say "all people" or "everyone."

bullet A memo to 17 male managers and 1 female manager reads, "Each supervisor must have his reports in on time." That one female manager is effectively excluded.

bullet A man greets a woman at work, "Hello Janet, I'm Mr. Smith; we'll be working together on this project." What he's just said is "You'll be working for me." 

bullet Someone refers to one of the most important things a woman does as her "night out with the girls." 

Shelagh Wilkinson who helped found the York Women's Studies programme was approached by a student worried about graduation. Not to worry, Shelagh said, you've got an A average. "That's not it," replied the student. "It's that when I first went back to school, my husband really objected, so all these years that I've been coming to night classes, I've told him I've been bowling. Now it's time for graduation and I'd really like him to be there, but I don't know what to tell him.   bowling ball and pin

bullet A pharmaceutical company writes in its annual report about the great strides man has made in medicine; a woman complains and someone says, "Oh don't get so upset; the word 'man' includes women as well." 

bullet The only place I heard about women in my MBA programme was in statements like, "We've got a pretty good distribution network, but the weak sister in the chain is Joe's warehouse." This has changed somewhat, but you'll still find it.

bullet American colleagues boast that, "When Thomas Jefferson wrote 'All men are created equal,' of course that great Democrat meant women as well" but you would do well to remember that in the United States of Jefferson's day, not only could women not vote, but neither could men of colour....hardly inclusive. 

bullet It's not only men who do this. I once listened to a female professor on a York Senate curriculum committee vehemently argue that when people in Biology talk about "man" they mean "humankind." My response was simple: Academics is an area grounded in precision, especially in the sciences; if you mean to say 'humankind' then say it." 

bullet That little room with the picture on the door of a person in pants? It used to be labelled "Men" and York Professor Penelope Doob used to challenge the assumption of inclusivity. Once a year she would walk into one of those rooms labelled "Men" to see just how included she felt.  

It is not hard to degenderize language. You don't have to get into silly overdone awkward "he-and-she" routines. Try this replacement: 

Original NOT this convoluted revision But this one
Each supervisor must submit his report on time. Each supervisor must submit his or her report on time. All supervisors must submit their reports on time. 


highway sign saying wrong way stoplight
I'll have my girl look into it I'll ask my secretary to look into it
Hello Janet, I'm Mr. Smith... Hello Janet, I'm Joe, or
Hello Ms. Jones, I'm Mr. Smith
night out with the girls evening class
strides man has made in medicine ...strides we have made in medicine
All men are created equal All people are created equal 

Where necessary, change wording to avoid awkwardness; about 99% of the time you can say it simply AND degenderize. Where you can't do both, opt for inclusive language 

waving hand Exercise
Correcting Language
Listen around you in your day-to-day life and find one or two specific examples of gendered language; rewrite it to be non-gendered (as is done above in the wrong/right columns)
Post your answer in the Moodle Discussion Group.
Language that Infantilizes
For too many men, it's easier to see a female colleague as a little girl rather than (in the words of the title of my first novel), A Grownup Woman of Considerable Presence and this shows in their language. They'll say things like, "I'll have my girl look into it," when they mean they'll ask their 35-year old secretary to deal with it. 
little girlwoman manager at desk
Don't refer to women over 18 as  "girls." Women are sometimes worse offenders in this than men. I regularly hear female supervisors in my own Faculty refer to fully grown women who work for them as "the girls." What image does that convey? 

The use of the term "girl" can be difficult for men of a certain age; Tom Lehrer, one of my favourite comedians from my youth, was quoted recently as saying, "In my youth, there were words you couldn't say in front of a girl; now you can't say 'girl'," but the skill CAN be learned.

It can be okay in certain colloquial phrases said woman to woman, such as "You go, girl!"

painting of two little girls on hillside
male professor female school teacher
Don't call your female professors "Miss." Don't excuse it because that's what you were taught to do in elementary school - a university is not an elementary school. Students sometimes argue that this is cultural (I say respect the culture of the person you are addressing), or that it is what they were taught as children (one student actually argued that she found "Miss" acceptable because she had been taught to call male teachers "Sir" and female teachers "Miss" - look at the sexism inherent in that statement). 

You are in university now and your professors, male or female, automatically have one title which is appropriate to use: Professor. They most likely, especially at York where we have the highest percentage of PhD's in Canada, will also be eligible for the title "Doctor." Unless, like many professors including me, they ask you to call them by their first name, use "Professor" or "Doctor." For most professors,. the title of "Doctor" or "Professor" came through many years of post-secondary education. Most of us invite you to call us by our first names, but if we don't or if you can't do that, then honour the time, energy, and spirit devoted to becoming a Doctor or Professor and address a female professor by the title of "Professor" or "Doctor" and never by "Miss."

waving hand Exercise
Hey Miss!
Are you guilty of this? Think about how you address your male and female professors. If one has not told you to use her first name, as I do, how do you address your female professors? 
Post your answer in the Moodle Discussion Group.

If this all seems overly fussy to you, you need to go read about the importance of names and how we label ourselves. First Nations people know the importance of a name; you are given one and told to go find out what it means for you. Back when the Unitarian Universalist church was degenderizing all its materials, my favourite UU minister, The Rev. Dr. Christopher Raible, had a snappy reply to anyone who asked, "But does it really matter whether we say HE or SHE?" "Fine," he'd say, "if it doesn't matter, then use SHE."

Too often the language even of well-meaning campaigns such as those to reduce consumption of cigarettes or alcohol ends up exhibiting gender or race bias. My good friend and colleague, Herb Rotfeld, professor of Marketing at Auburn University in Alabama recently wrote a book called Adventures in Misplaced Marketing (2001, Westport, Connecticut: Quorum Books). In it he discusses issues of social conscience in the targeting of products to specific groups. Herb writes:
cover of Rotfeld's book

It is strange how targeting almost any group for these products [cigarettes, alcohol, gambling, etc.] other than high-income white males is criticized. A new cigarette brand aimed at office secretaries and other low-level clerical working women is condemned for targeting a "vulnerable" audience, as is another brand of menthols for urban-dwelling African-Americans. A new beer appealing to low-income black consumers generates accusations that the corporations are attempting to commit genocide, since the beer contained a higher alcohol content that these consumers preferred.

Of course, children should not be the targets of these adult products. That is why people below a certain age or elderly people with impaired judgment are called "vulnerable groups." But critics of marketing practices also refer to adult women, African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities as "vulnerable groups," as if they were children needing protection. It is odd that only possessors of pale penises are perceived to also possess the potential to personally resist the persuasive power of marketing promotions. Adult women should resent someone else saying they are incapable of deciding to smoke or buy guns. No one has ever suggested that African-Americans should be banned from purchasing cigarettes or alcohol. ( p. 157) 

Body Language that Contradicts Watch yourself and/or other women in meetings. Is your body language undermining all the power you are aiming for with your sophisticated words? How often do women shrug our shoulders, tilt our head, and giggle? How often do you see men do these things? Not often. 

Watch what your body language says about you. Remember what your mother told you about standing up straight and sitting up straight; she was right. Learn how to carry yourself. Learn how to "take up more room". Men do it all the time. If you want to be taken seriously, carry yourself as if you were to be taken seriously. 

A student in Gender Issues in Management, Tatiani Jaku, sent this link to a talk by Amy Cuddy on TED. It's all about how your body language can determine how you succeed. It's about 20 minutes so give yourself some time to watch it, but do watch it:

Marilyn Monroe

Sports Language

Adam Lind, Toronto Blue Jay baseball player

Adam Lind,  Louise's Favourite Toronto Blue Jay

"How about those Jays, eh?" is not just idle chatter. Sports contributes a huge amount to the vocabulary of business. It is one area of common interest for most men, something men bond with, something to talk about at the water cooler and in the elevator and in those awkward moments before a meeting starts. Sports terminology provides linguistic short-cuts, allowing the speaker to have understood his exact meaning with just a quick phrase. Sports language also serves to cut out of the inner circle those who aren't part of the in-crowd. Nothing serves so quickly to identify you as someone out of the loop having to ask what a guy meant by one of these phrases:

We pitch an advertising campaign. We refer to someone who is well informed as on the ball.  We ask for a ball-park figure to estimate how much a project will cost. Even when we think there's no chance of closing a deal, we give it the old school try, going beyond just ordinary effort. When someone proposes an addition to the report that has nothing to do with the central point, we accuse her of being out in left field, or way off the mark.  When there's fierce opposition to an idea in a central planning committee and someone gets it approved by going through a more open-minded VP's office, he's doing an end run. A Monday morning quarterback is the guy who's always ready to criticize what was done, without having made any effort to actually help with the project. We ask someone to tackle the job. And of course, we want everyone these days to be a team player.

More Sports Idioms and their explanations, originally prepared for students whose native tongue is not English
two men playing squash In addition to providing much of the language of business, sports, and the playing of it or attending of it or watching of it, is often where the important business of an organization is played out.  In many cases, women lose out on important notice of promotions coming up and other important information about the day-to-day running of the company because they are not there on the golf course or the squash court to hear about it.

Sally Forth from the comics recently started to read the sports pages. In one cartoon, we see this dialogue as she sits reading the newspaper at the breakfast table with her husband Ted: 

Sally's husband "You've been reading the sports page and I didn't know about it?"
"A lot of the guys I work with like to talk sports. I keep up." Sally reading newspaper
Sally's husband "This is great. We can talk sports at the breakfast table." 
Sally: "I do it because I have to, Ted. Career enhancement." Sally reading newspaper
Sally's husband "What about marriage enhancement?"
"How about those Dodgers?"  Sally reading newspaper

In another one, Sally's co-worker Alice suggests that maybe we should try other analogies, like cooking: 

"This casserole's been in the oven long enough. Try that at the next department meeting."

and Sally responds

"You try it; I'll stay on the bench until I see whether you can punch it into the end zone." 

Some male writers do use the occasional "female" image. Norbert Wiener writing about Cybernetics in 1954 said this: "The historian of science looks in vain for a single line of development. Gibbs' work, while well cut out, was badly sewed, and it remained for others to complete the job that he began." (Wiener, Norbert 1954 The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society. New York: Da Capo Press.

Listening to Jerry Howarth of The Fan 590, as he called a Blue Jays game in August of 2013, I heard him refer to the pitcher J.A Happ's good pitching as, "hot knife through buttering his way through the inning.

waving hand Exercise
With more than 40% of middle management being women these days, why DON'T we have more business analogies from more traditionally female domains? 

What might an office discussion sound like if we did?

Post your answer in the Moodle Discussion Group.

Military Language

ad for U.S. Marines The military provides just as much to business language as does sports. We spent perhaps too much time in the 1970's telling women they had to become like men in order to succeed in the corporate world, including learning sports and the language of the military. You don't have to go join the Marines, but it is still worth knowing what it is that men learn from the military because the world of business is still filled with its imagery and is likely to be for some time to come. Ponder these terms from the field of Marketing, in which I did my doctorate.

As product managers, we respect the chain of command and taking our orders from above, plan a marketing strategy and detail the tactics for the ad campaign, remembering that the battle for position is waged in the mind of the consumer. Gathering intelligence about our competition, we marshal our resources, draft new staff recruits, exhort them to conquest, while containing the one guy in our ranks who is a loose cannon. If the enemy is solidly entrenched and we’re outflanked by bigger advertising budgets in a strategic manoeuvre, we enlist help from our superiors, and bring in the really big guns before we are broad-sided. If a full frontal attack on the market fails, we resort to guerrilla warfare and blast the competition where he least expects it, or we wage a sniper attack on his position where his defenses are weakest. If we execute this campaign well, we will progress through the ranks, achieve our well-merited promotion, and take our place with the other high-ranking officers of the firm.

For another example of the use of sports/military language, read the explanation of the difference between reliability and validity in the Introductory Marketing unit on Research

And sometimes we find sports and military comingled, here in this quote from the Globe and Mail sports section at the start of baseball season in 2009, using military imagery when writing about sports:

"Both teams are spending less money on payroll this year than they did last year. And Boston general manager Theo Epstein has already said publicly that he decided to keep some of his powder dry because he believes the economy is going to force teams into distress sales".

Sheryl Sandberg's Book Lean In

waving hand Exercise
Sandberg Language
How does Sheryl Sandbert's book Lean In help you further understand the topic of this unit?
Post your answer in the Moodle  Discussion Group.


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AP/ADMS/WMST3120 3.0 Gender Issues in Management
York University, Toronto
© M Louise Ripley, M.B.A., Ph.D.