What not to say to your female colleagues | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 29, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 29, 2019

What not to say to your female colleagues

More and more companies are seeing the increase of women in the workforce. Women are rising to the top levels of companies. An increasing number of companies are seeing the value of having more women in leadership roles, and they’re proving that they can make progress on gender diversity. This is an important step in the right direction.

We often talk about the “glass ceiling” that prevents women from reaching senior leadership positions. In reality, the biggest obstacle that women face is much earlier in the pipeline; in fact it’s at the first step up to manager. Fixing this “broken rung” is the key to achieving parity. All employees should feel respected and be assured that they have an equal opportunity to grow and advance. Employees care deeply about opportunities and fairness, not only for themselves but for everyone. A more diverse workforce doesn’t automatically lead to a more inclusive culture; steps need to be taken to ensure inclusion. When a company’s culture feels fair and inclusive, everyone does well. By fostering diversity, building a culture of opportunity and fairness, and focusing their attention on the broken rung, companies can close their gender gaps, and make progress on the road to equality.

Despite the efforts to ensure a neutral environment, corporate culture is male coded.  Although things are getting better, there are a number of things men should never say to their female colleagues. Casual sexism is very deeply embedded, and much of it starts with seemingly harmless office banter. It doesn’t sound like much, but it deeply affects a woman’s morale.

“You’re doing great for a woman”

No woman wants anyone to think that she is only doing well based on society’s perception of what women are capable of doing, which unfortunately is not on par with men. This statement is very stereotypical and extremely belittling. Female coworkers are doing their best to ace the assignment, regardless of their gender, and they still have their jobs, because they are just as capable as their male counterparts.

Using terms of “endearment”

Harmless sounding terms such as “sweetie,” “hon” or “cutie” are very patronising, and quite honestly not very endearing. Regardless of intent, the impact creates a demeaning aura.

Commenting on their appearances

Comments on a woman’s appearance are inappropriate in the workplace unless you have a long established relationship where you’re absolutely sure the comment will not be misconstrued. Even compliments may back fire, especially if it involves comments about weight gain or loss. Women are particularly annoyed by this because it somewhat reinforces the archaic ideas that women are primarily objects that are nice to look at.

Making sexual comments

Not only do sexual innuendos make the female employee on the receiving end feel embarrassed, offended and uncomfortable, they also create problems in the broader workplace environment. Top women employees will not stick around if the company does not promote and enforce equal respect.

“Is it that time of the month?” or “She’s so emotional”

When a female executive is forceful or aggressive, her nature is perceived to be negative, but a man in the same position is perceived to be doing his job. One of the ways that negativity can be subtly expressed is by attributing the behavior to hormonal changes. It is never appropriate to comment on a female coworker’s menstrual cycle or hormones and try to link her behaviour with that.

“You only got the job because you’re a woman”

Suggesting to a woman that she’s excelled in her career because of gender is disrespectful. These comments build up over time to create a corporate culture that ticks off the female employees and affects their performance.


Nabila Hossain is completing her undergrad at Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka. Reach her at nabilaanima@gmail.com.

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