“Watch what you say, and whatever you say, practice it.”
~ Soyen Shaku
When was the last time you greeted a gender-diverse group by calling out, “Hey, Ladies!”? It would sound pretty silly. It has clearly been common to use the plural “guys” when addressing a group that includes more than just those who identify as a guy. If this is your default when starting a zoom meeting, calling out to a group of friends to ‘wait up’, or coaching your daughter’s soccer team and you haven’t given it a second thought – it’s time.
Many managers and leaders are confident that they foster inclusive team environments, but default language and behavior, like this, for example, can add up. Words have power, and while this may seem minor to some, to others, it may be triggering and create an environment where they do not feel they belong. Imagine a day in the office where a leader or influencer (even one who themselves is not a guy) says, “great work, guys,” “what do you guys think?”, or “you guys want to go to lunch?” but you are not a ‘guy’. Consciously or subconsciously, you will not feel you are getting direct recognition or invites. This has an impact on how you show up, perform, interact, and engage.
The defensive reaction might be to argue that it’s no big deal, and everyone does it. If it is truly no big deal, then it should be no big deal to stop. If everyone does it, imagine the impact it could have if everyone stopped doing it. Small changes can lead to significant outcomes over time. Though small, as with any deeply embedded habits and behaviors, it will take a plan and consistency to break. Awareness is the first step; make a mental note every time you say it yourself, or hear others say it. Next, be prepared with a new behavior. Pick an alternative phrase and make a difference. Here are some ideas:
Good morning / afternoon / evening
What up my peeps
You get the idea.
This week’s inquiry…
What other words or phrases might be impacting your leadership effectiveness?
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