What you should never say to a woman in the workplace or anywhere!
Make sure you never say any of these things to women, especially in the workplace
There are some phrases that are so common you might forget that they're sexist, but here's a reminder of some of the things you should never say to a woman.
I get it. Feminism right now is in that awkward growing phase. You know when you’re 14 and everything’s changing and moving into unchartered territory. Spots keep appearing, you keep having growth spurts, and seem to say the wrong thing at every occasion.
Well attitudes around gender equality have been growing and changing a lot in recent years. With language being an important part of that change. It means many things that used to be acceptable, really aren’t anymore. Particularly in the workplace. So if you feel like sometimes you just can’t get it right, here are some big old no-nos to avoid at all costs.
Here you have it...
21 things you should never say to a woman in the workplace
1. Working Mum
These days the term ‘working mum’ is as redundant as saying ‘Please RSVP’ or ‘free gift’. Either you’re suggesting a woman’s true domain is in the home, and thus bringing up something totally irrelevant to the office, or you are amazed a woman can juggle both work and a homelife. Whichever way you look at it, it’s going nowhere good. So just stop.
2. "Lady Boss" and “Female CEO”
Are you saying that we assume all bosses and CEOs are men unless indicated otherwise? And what purpose does it serve to specify gender when talking about a CEO or boss anyway? Unless it’s to make generalisations about them. In which case.. see above.
Make the most of every opportunity with our Leadership Coaching for Women.
3. Smile more!
Did you ever wonder if maybe the reason she isn’t smiling is because she’s at work? Or because she just really doesn’t like your company? And your non-pc jokes? She probably smiles all the time when you are not around. Just peek around the corner when you’re not in her eye line.
4. When are you going to get married and have a family?
I can bet you that there is almost no relevant time to ask this question in the workplace. If you thought of one but your answer was so you can discriminate/ not hire/ fire/ or hit on said employee/ colleague, try again.
5. For a woman, you’re not bad at...
I do sometimes see that this sentiment can come from a good place. But then I remember that we aren’t living in the 1950s and surely men, like the rest of us, understand that we believe in gender equality, and know that women are good at stuff too.
6. Are you on your period, on the change…
This gets bandied around as an excuse not to listen to or take women seriously if they are pissed off about something. It’s not the period. Try dealing with the problems instead.
7. She’s the office mum.
This just means you let someone pick up all the office organising, remembering birthdays, splitting bills and planning work trips. Why not try helping her out instead of assuming she wants to do it? Believe me, she doesn’t.
8. Let me explain that to you…
Unless you have actual specialist knowledge on the subject, I do not need to hear you guess the answer at length. That is all.
9. Calm down.
Has telling someone to calm down ever had any other outcome than increasing their anger at least 200%? No, of course it hasn’t. When Graham from accounts smarmily tells you to calm down in a meeting, it’s a total power play. He is trivialising a legitimate feeling you are trying to express, undermining you in front of others, and perpetuating an outdated notion of hysterical women.
10. Man up … grow a pair...
If you insist on still saying grow a pair, at least change it in your head so that you are actually secretly referring to ovaries.
11. Can you take notes, serve coffee, order lunch?
Ever noticed that these types of tasks don’t often get delegated to big, tall men? What do they get instead? Oh yeah, respect. If you wouldn’t ask a male colleague then don’t ask a female one.
Learn how to be confident enough to say no, with our session on Building your Confidence.
12. Have you lost weight?
One. It is absolutely none of your business.
Two. It is absolutely none of your business.
13. Boys will be boys
Can we stop pretending this is an acceptable excuse for poor male behaviour? Whether that’s stealing your idea at work, drowning out colleagues in a meeting, or cheating on someone, can we please stop? How about the new ‘boys will be boys’ is ‘being responsible for your actions?’
14. You look great today.
Uh, as opposed to every other day?
15. She’s too distracting.
Oh please. No matter how a woman is dressed, if you feel you can’t, or shouldn’t have to, ‘control yourself’ around women there is something seriously wrong here. And the problem is you, not her. If she’s too distracting, stop looking for starters!
16. Let me help you with that…
It’s been a long time coming, but chivalry really might be dead this time. I know it can come from a good place, but the instant assumption a woman needs help from a man is both patronising and incorrect. Stop.
17. It was just a joke.
‘It’s just a joke’ is a particularly limp effort to cover up inappropriate, or sexist, comments. When women inevitably don’t find it funny, they are made to feel like they are the problem for being difficult, too sensitive, or without a sense of humour. They are not the problem. Clean up your act.
People might not even realise they are offending people and harming the company's prospects. Help them, and the business, with our Unconscious Bias Training Workshop.
18. You're so bossy
Ever noticed men don’t get called bossy, but rather things like assertive? What’s up with that?
19. Okay guys, let’s …
In the name of inclusivity let's not use guys as the blanket term for people. We already have a term for that. People.
20. Man the desk, phones, sales stand...
Another shout-out to inclusivity here. We don’t need to be gender specific to tell people what to do.
21. Don’t be so aggressive/emotional/difficult/edgy.
If I am not currently aggressive, emotional, difficult or edgy, I am about to be after you say this to me. There is a different vocabulary around anger when it comes to men, and it often is dealt with more respectfully. Women are supposed to act sweet or they get the above labels. It's not fair and it's time to change that.
So there you have it. 21 things to avoid saying to women at any cost, that should make everyone's lives a whole lot easier.
Diversity and Inclusion lead to business success. Contact 3Plus today so we can help you to attract and retain top female talent. Find out more HERE.
Found that interesting?
Learn more about our services
Make your dreams a reality with a professional evaluation of your career to date.
The evidence is in. More women in your company can deliver 35% greater financial returns. (Catalyst)
Dates for the Diary
November 12th European Commission DG GROW
Informal talk on how to deal with sexism - 12.30 - 1400
November 25th Council of the European Union - Corporate Event
How to deal with sexism and harassment in the workplace
Download and listen free podcasts
How to Create an Effective USP What is a USP? Our Unique Selling Point or UVP (Unique Value Proposition) is our key core message about where...read more
How to Rethink the Modern Workplace for Gender Equality New research shows that diversity and inclusion is a top priority for leaders. So why...read more
Menopause in the workplace In this podcast with Nicki Williams award winning author, keynote speaker and Founder of Happy Hormones for Life,...read more
How to Cultivate Empathy in the Workplace Nancy Milton, international business communications expert, keynote speaker and author, share some vital...read more
Taking Care of your COW Tanvi Guatam, international Personal Branding expert says there is a misconception out there that a personal brand is...read more
The importance of Hard Talk Dawn Metcalfe, author of Managing the Matrix and Hard Talk, shares with us tips to achieve the lasting communication...read more
When Does Female Rivalry Turn into Sabotage There’s a lot of stuff written on social media about female rivalry and competition between women. Some...read more
Goal setting tips to boost your career The happiest people are those that really love their jobs. Those that don’t, dread Sunday nights and...read more
Sexism: How to stage a Bystander Intervention in the Workplace In this power coaching podcast, we're going to tackle one of the questions...read more
How to Get Noticed by Head Hunters & Recruiters In this power coaching podcast, we're going to tackle one of the questions asked multiple...read more
It might not be apparently obvious how a consensual relationship can turn someone into a poor brand ambassador, but we need to take into account the power structures at play.read more
We tend to think of single-sex education as being an antiquated notion, but maybe it could solve some of our more contemporary issues.read more
Violence against female politicians is an intimidation tactic, and it’s working. We need to stop this trend before it gets worse.read more