Male coded messages cut out women

by Jun 22, 20161 comment

Women excluded by male coded messages in business


Male coded messages are so deeply embedded in our everyday and company cultures that we barely notice them.

Military terms: Sales Force, Officer, taking flak,  pick your fights,  uphill battle, in the trenches, guerilla marketing,  killing it, the front line, under fire, out ranked, out flanked, secure the market

Sporting terms: game plan, hitting it out of the park, the whole 9 yards,  a pitch,  Ninja, Black Belt, Scrum Master, coach, goal, team, low blow, the ball’s in your court, down to the wire, in your corner, drop the ball, no holds barred


Male Coded Messages


While seemingly inoffensive, this type of language perpetuates male culture in organisations. Sports and the military are generally male domains where women are only starting to make inroads. Business jargon is a shorthand that sends out an immediate message about the way an organisation works and is a comment on its key core values. It’s a question of officer’s mess and locker room to the board room.  Read:  We want to hire more women – but we don’t seem to be able to! 

It suggests what type of people are wanted, who succeeds and how they communicate. Although women are not outwardly unwelcome, there is a subliminal signal that they have to understand and excel in a male game. They have to “get on side” and  “get in the zone.”

Pick up on the Male Coded Messages

Picking up male code is hard for anyone. These phrases can subtly influence the full participation and integration of women if they can’t  literally talk the talk.  And if they do, they experience the “double whammy” of gender blow back. Assertive language while expected and rewarded from men is viewed negatively coming from women. They are expected to be more collaborative, inclusive and even tentative.

Read: Assertive communication. 9 tips to avoid being labelled a bitch

Women may never feel that they can fully participate in the boisterous exchanges that are part of organisational life.

The effect of military and sporting lingo on women in the workplace should not be underestimated. It is part of a  subliminal cultural message that leads to the exclusion of women. “It says you are welcome, but on our terms.

Language use is pivotal to corporate culture. Read: How to attract talented women to your organisation. I can honestly say that most meetings I attend, especially around leadership issues , invariably  include some military reference, even when the focus is diversity and inclusion.  Male coded language, like military and sporting jargon, serves as a template for masculine style, thought, and action. The question is whether these types of cultures are likely to foster the level of inclusivity where women feel comfortable and can succeed. Informal terms used frequently in offices, business meetings, presentations, web sites and other official corporate material, become part of the employer brand. Add on to that, female unfriendly hospitality events, quite often centred around male sporting activities, those male coded messages are implanted even more deeply.

Read: Make corporate hospitality female friendly

So women will have to learn to tune out the lingo, while their male colleagues should be encouraged  to “step up to the plate” and “take a shot” at making changes to “level the field” to give women a “sporting chance.”  This will help our confusion when we feel the “goal posts have moved.”

Some female coded messages

Leadership guru Simon Sinek, has always said “Leaders eat last” derived from the military mantra “officers eat last”. So even though that it is a mainly male coded message, he shows an image of a mother throwing herself over her child to protect him. This is a metaphor for a badly needed different kind of leadership.

He then goes on to say:

“Real leaders are that mother … that’s what leadership is”

Officers eat last – but so do mothers. Time for some female coded messages.


3Plus International offers a portfolio of solutions for Individuals and Corporate Clients to achieve a gender balanced workplace.  Contact us  Now!

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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