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For Employers

Gender Neutral Language in the Workplace

Why It Matters & 3 Tips for Getting Started

I've found that requests for gender neutral or "inclusive" language are often met with eye rolls. And not just from men.

I should know - as a college sophomore, I rolled my eyes big time when my Psychology of Gender professor said that using terms like "mankind" helped to sustain gender inequality. I still have my notes to prove it: "Obviously mankind refers to men and women." It wasn't until she had us engage in a brief thought experiment that I really understood her point.

It was simple: what do you picture when you think of "man" discovering fire?

Now tell me you didn't just picture something like this:

If you didn't, you're a better man person than I am. Multiple studies have shown that when we hear masculine generic terms (man, mankind, congressmen, etc.), that are meant to also include women, we exclusively picture men. Why's that a problem? When we subconsciously give men credit for humanity's achievements or picture men but not women, we downplay women's contributions to society and limit women's opportunities (if she can see it, she can be it!).

Because this happens subconsciously, it can be hard to convince folks (even women) that it's a problem, but once we understand how our words are part of a feedback loop that affects our thinking, it's hard to argue against change.

Not only does the use of masculine generic terms reflect problematic societal norms, it also helps keep them intact:


Back up, what's gender neutral language?

Gender neutral language, also referred to as gender inclusive language, means "speaking and writing in a way that does not discriminate against a particular sex, social gender or gender identity, and does not perpetuate gender stereotypes."

Most often, it means avoiding masculine pronouns (he, him, his) when referring to a subject that could be of any gender and masculine generic terms (congressmen, firemen, etc.) when referring to groups of people that could include men, women, and non-binary folks.

Why should you foster a company culture that values gender neutral language?

If you want your company to reap the benefits of diversity, then you need to breakdown implicit bias and stereotypes, not reinforce them. Changing the language we've all been taught is "normal" challenges the inherent assumption that men are the default or the norm. It's just one small way you can make women and non-binary folks feel welcome in spaces that were traditionally designed for men. And in doing so, help everyone on your team reach his their potential.

So, how do you get started?

Breaking deeply ingrained habits is always difficult (I'd be lying if I said I never use "guys" to refer to mixed-gender groups), and you'll no doubt get some pushback along the way… but rather than giving your employees lists of what they can and cannot say, try changing your own word choice first; as a company leader, you have the power to drive change across your organization just by changing your own behavior.

Here are 3 tips to keep in mind:

1. Embrace The Singular "They"

Contrary to what my high school English teacher told me, the English language has a long history using "they" as a third-person singular pronoun - if it was good enough for Chaucer and Shakespeare, it's good enough for me. In recent years, the singular they has gained acceptance once more, so much so that in 2015 it was embraced by the Washington Post style guide and named the American Dialect Society's word of the year. Although "he or she" and "s/he" have been popular alternatives to the generic "he" for quite some time now, they reinforce the gender binary, while the singular they helps ensure non-binary colleagues don't feel left out.

Don't Say:

If an employee wishes to go on vacation, he or she must schedule it two weeks in advance.

Do Say:

If an employee wishes to go on vacation, they must schedule it two weeks in advance.

2. Swap Out "Man" Words For Neutral Alternatives

Most typical "man" default words have already been changed for gender neutral options, but others still tend to fly under the radar. Keep your eye (or ear) out for these common terms, and swap them for gender neutral alternatives.

Biased: Businessmen, Guys, Chairman, Manpower; Neutral: Businesspeople, Team, Folks, People, Everybody, Chairperson, Personnel

3. Eliminate Gender-Biased Expressions

We often throw phrases around without considering their origins and what we imply when we use them. Seeing the phrases below written down, it almost feels absurd to be reminding folks that they're not ideal for the workplace, but I've heard them more times than I can count in my own professional life. I've probably used them a handful of times as well.

As a leader at your organization, what do you imply when you use these expressions? That you buy into the bogus stereotypes that being a man is equivalent to being tough, and being a woman means you're inherently emotional and weak. Not exactly the kind of thoughts you want to champion if your goal is to help your entire team reach its potential. The kind of thinking perpetuated by these phrases isn't good for men, either, as it's yet another way we tell men that they're not supposed to be vulnerable, which is actually essential for building strong teams!

Alternatively, what do you imply when you say less frequently heard phrases like "don't be a coward"? It signals to employees that you don't tolerate sexist language - and it might get them thinking about their own word choice, or maybe even lead to a conversation. You can bet it will be more effective than just handing them a list of phrases they can't say.

Summing It Up - Not Rules, Just Respect

Some types of gendered language may feel much more offensive than others (i.e. "Don't be a pussy" vs. calling a group "guys"), but at their core, they all reflect (and help to perpetuate) sexism. Unconscious bias is real and manifests in the language we use.

Using gender neutral language is not about policing free speech or enforcing rules. It's about questioning your assumptions, considering the sexist notions that contributed to these speech patterns in the first place, and doing your part to break the feedback loop. It's about paying attention to signs of underlying sexism and taking them seriously, rather than dismissing them with, "it's just an expression."

And if you're a traditionalist who refuses to embrace the evolution of language, careful - thy company might just get left behind.

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Slack Technologies Inc

Setting New Hires Up For Success

Speed up onboarding with these integrations for Slack

Below is an article originally written by PowerToFly Partner Slack, and published via Medium on June 7th, 2018. Go to Slack's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

While a well-equipped desk with a new laptop and a coffee mug might make for a nice introduction, it's how you prepare employees for their new position that matters most. "Faster onboarding means employees can more quickly do the jobs they were brought on to do," says a recent IDC research study, sponsored by Slack, that also finds that HR teams using Slack for employee onboarding are able to get people up to speed on their new jobs 24% faster.

Getting new hires fully briefed and trained up can be a lengthy process. By connecting various tools with Slack, you can run an effective and organized onboarding program that gives new employees immediate access to the tools and information they need to make a roaring head start.

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For Employers

LinkedIn Diversity Report Omits Photos of Black People

Don't just say you're going to feature underrepresented minorities, actually do it !

I sat down this afternoon to read LinkedIn's newly released 2017 Diversity Talent Report. Midway through, after seeing a number of fascinating stats LinkedIn had gleaned from its massive database, I started to notice a glaring omission. For a report about diversity, there were no photos of black people. To gut check myself, I sent the report to my team at PowerToFly and they confirmed what I wasn't seeing. They also pointed out that Asian, White and Southeast Asian women seemed to be the predominant faces in the photos LinkedIn picked.

LinkedIn clearly took the time to choose diverse subjects for its images - they just didn't take enough time to check if they were leaving out American's largest racial minority - African Americans. The omission is particularly strange if you consider the great advice LinkedIn includes in the report around building inclusive environments where everyone can feel they belong. One of the action points LinkedIn suggests is to:

Highlight diverse models of successful leadership. Show women there is more than one route to the top. Point to role models and discuss how she can build on her own strengths, skills, and priorities.

This action item is rooted in research that shows how much women, especially in STEM, want to know how people who look like them are succeeding at a company.


The overall lesson here is follow LinkedIn's advice when building out content and diversity initiatives for your company - the report is a recommended read. But learn from their mistake - don't just say you're going to feature underrepresented minorities, actually do it!

So you don't have to go through the entire report, I've added all the images below.









For Employers

Hiring For Diverse Talent: Your Holiday Reading List

One of our Senior Sales Executives at PowerToFly pulled together a "holiday reading list" for our partners filled with a number of articles I've been meaning to catch up on. Since the next two days should be relatively quiet on the work front - and crazy on the home front - I'm sharing this list. Perhaps you can steal away from the stuffing for a few minutes to read these insights.


1. “Numbers Take Us Only So Far” by Maxine Williams, Facebook's Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion

Read the article here

I interviewed Maxine over a year ago for Business Insider. You can watch the video here where I was riveted by how she's set up inclusion trainings as part of Facebook's on-boarding process. In her recent article for Harvard Business Review, Maxine makes the argument that we need to expand how we collect diversity data.

"...data volume alone won't give leaders the insight they need to increase diversity in their organizations. They must also take a closer look at the individuals from underrepresented groups who work for them—those who barely register on the analytics radar."

2. The Programs At Top Companies To Move Women Out of Middle-Management: WSJ

An interesting read from the Wall Street Journal that showcases what IBM, Chevron and Intuit are doing to give women the support they need to ultimately arrive at the C Suite. Why?

The share of women in middle management was unchanged at 33% and rose slightly in C-suite roles to 20%, concludes a new study by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co.


3. Competing For Talent in The Digital Age: A CEB Report

Read the report here

A quick read that reinforces the work we're doing at PowerToFly by taking a market driven, analytics approach to finding under-represented but over messaged women in tech, sales and digital.

Candidates are a recognized stakeholder in the hiring process. This status is driven by scarcity in some sectors as well as candidate expectations. Organizations are learning to build in interactive touch points that mirror the candidates' journey and allow candidates to explore and evaluate the role and the organization while informing candidates' decision to commit to a full application.

Message me @kzaleski on Twitter or via my LinkedIn profile here if you have more suggestions for our holiday reading list at PowerToFly.

And Happy Turkey Day

Giphy

Better Companies

The Problem with Sexual Harassment Training

Hint: it protects companies more than potential victims

On Friday, Jena McGregor at The Washington Post published an analysis on why sexual harassment training programs that surged in the late 1990s, after two Supreme Court decisions, have done little to create more inclusive workplaces for women.

The best quote from McGregor's article that sums up why sexual harassment training is flawed is below. As Debra Katz simply says, these trainings are viewed as band aids that provide cover, but don't get to the root of changing a company's culture to prevent conditions where harassers feel empowered.

"It was sort of a get-out-of-jail-free card to companies," said Debra Katz, a Washington lawyer who represents plaintiffs in sexual harassment cases. After the 1998 decisions, she said, "there was like a cottage industry of trainers who went in and provided training. Most of those efforts were geared toward trying to protect themselves from liability as opposed to creating a sea change in the culture."

McGregor's article is filled with more possible reasons, including research that shows how sexual harassment trainings reinforced gender biases through materials that made women look like they had less power at organizations. Another fun fact from McGregor's piece is that only "five states have a mandate for harassment training for private and public employees (another 22 require it for some or all public-sector workers), according to the National Women's Law Center." Sexual harassment training is not nearly as prevalent as assumed.

So what can we do beyond pushing for broad cultural changes across corporations? That's a larger conversation that I'll break down in future blogs. In the meantime, watch Claire from HR cut to the core in a SNL skit below. She provides the best sexual harassment training I've seen to date (and no, that isn't a joke).

Claire from HR's Sexual Harassment Training


More articles on why sexual harassment training falls short:

Washington Post: What's the point of sexual harassment training? Often, to protect employers.

Bloomberg: Why Can't We Stop Sexual Harassment Training at Work?

CNN: Paul Ryan Orders Mandatory Sexual Harassment Training for Members, Staff

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