I’m in. How can I do this?

She needs to toughen up, doesn’t she?

If she wasn’t a *itch, people would like her better, and her team would perform better.

She is an aggressive negotiator! Watch out!

We don’t mean to come across this way. We don’t intend to be mean. We don’t intend to be biased.

I recently conducted 360 Reviews for both male and female employees within a firm. With multiple interviews back to back over the course of several days, I noticed the language used to describe both genders, reported by both genders. Often, the same words were used to describe a male employee and female employee yet had a different meaning. For example,

She can be bossy, and it turns people away.

When he takes command, and acts like a boss, people respect his decisiveness and follow his lead.

How is that possible?

I blame it on history. On habits that have been entrenched and in practice for over a century. Women are expected to be kind and focused on the betterment of the team and company. When they go beyond this boundary, we are shocked, and it results in liking them less.

My goal – why I started my own consulting practice in the first place – is to change these biases. And to do so before my daughter enters the professional workforce in a decade. I want her generation to have a different experience. I want employees – of all genders – to change the way they perceive each other and assign attributes.

How do I do this?

First step is to recognize the descriptors you are using speaking about your colleagues. Be aware of this in formal settings, talking to clients and colleagues etc. –  and informal settings – conversations in the halls and over meals, in emails, etc. Start today – make a list of the words you use.

Second, pause before you speak. What are you about to say? This is key when emotions are running high. Check in with yourself. Are you frustrated or angry? Watch what you say! Continue the conversation at a later point if needed.

Third, build your vocabulary of words you can use instead. Harvard Business Review has a comprehensive list of words managers use to describe men and women in performance reviews. Try using positive words (typically used in reviews for men): Competent, Dependable, Confident, Versatile, and Articulate. Ellevate Network reminds us to Change the Conversation:

Instead of Bossy, use Decisive

Instead of Loud, use Assertive

Instead of Aggressive, use Passionate

Instead of Shy, use Thoughtful or Introspective

Instead of Empowered, use POWERFUL (this makes me think of Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman)

Instead of Old, use Experienced

Instead of Emotional, use Empathetic

Fourth, be aware of your biases. This may be the hardest step. It takes time. It takes self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Notice the perceptions you have of people. Where are your biases showing up?

Five, ask for help. Tell others you’re working on this. Ask for feedback in all your conversations, emails, letters, briefs, etc. Not only will this help you recognize situations and people with whom you’re using biased language, it will also build trust and loyalty in your employees and colleagues.

Be the leader who people want to work with and follow. Be the leader who people are clamoring to be on your team. Be the leader who changes the workforce for our daughters.

Where do your biases lie? Please share your realizations below.