Mr. Madhav K Raul
Head-Training & Placement, SVERI’s College of Engineering, Pandharpur, Dist: Solapur.
It’s no great secret that men and women are very different creatures. Despite the fact that they’re the same species, they are physically, mentally, and emotionally composed in an almost completely different manner. This is so much the case that until fairly recently our entire society operated within very distinct gender-based roles. Up until the past few decades, for example, you didn’t see many female military officers or male nurses. It simply wasn’t socially acceptable. However, times have changed and we are beginning to see more and more men fill traditionally female roles and more women fill traditionally male roles. Unfortunately, IT is one of the more slowly changing fields, and to this point males are still in the majority, but there are thoughts that this may one day change. Regardless, as an IT professional you are going to need to understand what you should and should not say in the workplace in order to maintain a very gender-neutral environment. I would like to put the scenario, where some examples of detrimental gender communication and explain why these aren’t good ideas in the workplace. After that, you’ll see a “Resolution” section that recommends some tactics for achieving an environment that is suitable to both men and women.
Anwit and Shrikant are two employees of the large technology corporation known as International Grading Machines and have been employed with IGM for over three years. Just recently, both Anwit and Shrikant were informed that they’d been transferred from the customer desktop support branch of IGM to the machine assembly division. Thankfully, both Anwit and Shrikant are very happy that they’ve had this change. Neither of them fancies dealing with people all day long as a full-time career, and the machine assembly area gives them the opportunity to just relax and have a good time with the technology at work. The only problem with the transition is that the two of them are both going to have to spend a great deal of time in training in order to learn the ins and outs of the new division’s policies and procedures. As the training has gone on, Anwit and Shrikant have begun to take lunches together. Since only a few people go to lunch at roughly the Anwit time, it works out well for both of them, even if they don’t know each other all that well. While they’re at lunch in the company cafe– teria, they have the following casual conversation that, unbeknownst to them, is overheard by their manager.
Anwit: “So what do you think of this new training class?”
Shrikant: “Eh, it’s OK. I’m not really a huge fan of our teacher, Ms. Heinz.”
Anwit: “Oh yeah? Why not? She seems like a pretty cool chick.”
Shrikant: “Um … I suppose. She just seems a bit dictatorial, almost like a guy.”
Anwit: “Right. I kind of like that about her. She gives it to you straight.”
Shrikant: “Well, maybe. What do you think about the color of the walls in the room?”
Anwit: “The wall colors? I hadn’t noticed. Aren’t they red?”
Shrikant: “Yeah, they’re red. I think they seem really angry.”
Anwit: “I guess. Did you get a load of Ms. Heinz’s supervisor, Dan? He is so flaming.”
Shrikant: “Oh, yeah, totally. I thought he was going to hit on you.”
Anwit: “Yep. What a sissy.”
Gender-based communication has become an area of concern only recently, but it’s been a prevalent issue for nearly a century. Without giving a long history lesson, until the late 1800s the United States was a very male-dominated society. In that era, women were expected to be seen and not heard, to care for children, and not to concern themselves about political and financial issues. However, in the early 1900s, women decided they were sick and tired of that sort of treatment and led a protest to be allowed the right to vote. In 1920, the U.S. Congress passed into law the 19th amendment to the constitution, granting the right to vote regardless of sex. While this was a radical first step, it was by no means a complete fix-all to the current political and business situation. Afterward came the civil rights movement and the feminist movement, urging that women should be treated completely equally to men. Nowadays, society has evolved to a point that most people would consider gender roles to be fairly equal, but there is still a lot of tension. In the workplace, casually derogatory terms are tossed back and forth frequently. Without thought, many people still fall into the habit of using sexually harassing terms. And while the blame lies mostly upon men, the roles have recently begun reversing as women have started to become more authoritative.
On the surface, some might say that the conversation between Shrikant and Anwit is relatively harmless. While it’s certainly casual, there were no real insults hurled between them, except to pick on their teacher. In fact, if you were to sit “most” people down and ask them if it would bother them to hear that sort of talk, chances are that they would say no. However, the workplace is not in any way concerned with “most people.” In fact, office environments are very concerned about special cases. One special case can actually cause a large amount of legal liability. If someone is offended by this conversation because of its usage of offensive gender-based terms, it could cause a great deal of trouble for the company. Next, I’ll discuss some of the biggest mistakes made in this conversation and highlight some of the most important aspects to remember about what you should and should not say in the office.
This scenario is primarily concerned with what was said in this particular office environment and, more important, what the effect of those words could be on the workplace. In total, three “no-nos” were committed in this situation:
- Gender-based slang is used.
- Many degrading statements are exchanged back and forth.
- Both individuals make derogatory comments alluding to sexual preference.
Let’s take a look at each of those mistakes and see why you should avoid making them in the office.
The first mistake in this situation was made by Anwit. In his second line of dialogue, he made the critical mistake of including a piece of gender slang. Gender slang is any term, slur, or expression used to identify someone by their sex or orientation. It includes, but is in no way limited to, words such as “chick,” “dude,” “guy,” “babe,” “fella,” “toots,” and a hundred other euphemisms. While you’re in the office, you should try your best to stay away from any gender- related word that is not “man,” “woman,” “male,” or “female.” This way, you can be assured that no one is going to be offended. Almost every term other than these few carries with it a potential
for stigma that people might find offensive. This is important to note because, as was mentioned previously, the important thing about harassment (especially sexual harassment) is that it does not matter what is intended by the comment—the only thing that matters is what the individual hearing it feels.
Although Anwit did make the mistake of throwing the first metaphorical stone, Shrikant quickly followed it up with a statement that was equally damaging. And, from the way she said it, it’s pretty likely that she didn’t mean any offense by it. Consider the statement: “Um … I suppose. She just seems a bit dictatorial, almost like a guy.” On the surface, you might again say that it is fairly harmless. But realize, some men might take great offense at being called dictatorial. One of the greatest misconceptions in the office is that the phenomenon of making degrading statements is mostly done by men. This is not in any way true. Both men and women can make equally insensitive remarks if they are not careful. When you’re in the office, it’s a good idea to guard yourself against anything that might be a generalization to a specific group. Generalizations are never a good idea; they don’t account for anything specific and can accompany unnecessarily derisive comments.
Gender-Based Sexual Comments
You probably didn’t even need me to say it, but the next big “do not do” on this list of bad habits to keep out of the workplace is to make any insulting joke based on someone’s sexual preference. In the first place, it isn’t your concern. What someone chooses to do with their time in their way is their own business. Second, in most cases you have no idea what their practices are. Although you may see someone conduct themselves in a certain manner, it may not mean anything. Consider, if you see a pair kiss each other on the cheek in the parking lot, you might assume that they are together in a relationship. However, many cultures around the world do this as a way of expressing platonic friendship. Furthermore, it’s completely acceptable for members of the same sex, and in no way denotes a homosexual relationship. When you consider opening your mouth and inserting your foot when it comes to someone’s sexual preference, keep this in mind: business is business. Sex should not be a factor. While it’s true that it’s a fact of life, it’s a fact that doesn’t belong anywhere near the place where someone chooses to earn a living. By violating that rule with someone you work with, you are exposing yourself to punishment and exposing them to ridicule and judgment that they do not deserve. It’s simply not fair.
The best way to avoid any type of gender-based comments or harassment in the workplace is to use the following tactics:
Tactic 1: Keep Quiet.
If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. It doesn’t make you wrong if you object or think the way someone conducts themselves is inappropriate or interesting. It only makes you wrong if you make your opinions about their private life publicly known. Keep in mind that the best way to make yourself stay generally liked and to not offend most people is to just not give an opinion.
Tactic 2: Keep an Open Mind.
As a professional you are going to be exposed to hundreds or thousands of people who are going to work in your field who come from all walks of life. While some they may seem strange or interesting, they’re going to have different opinions on what is and is not appropriate to say about someone’s sex (and sex life). In some cultures, words like “babe” or “dude” can be very friendly terms; in others, they can be extreme insults. Because of this, it’s best to keep an open
mind and a bland and conservative policy when it comes to this subject. Don’t let your opinion be known, but instead just be open to those of other people. You’ll find that it both gives you an interesting insight into other people’s psyche and keeps you from exposing yourself to unnecessary risk.
Tactic 3: Respect Your Peers.
If people know that you respect them, they’re going to respect you in return. By not using any terms that someone could find offensive, you will be reinforcing this respect. It’s important that you as a professional understand this because your career will succeed or fail based on how much people respect you. Nobody wants to work for someone that they don’t think appreciates them. And you’d better believe that by making rude comments they will certainly believe you don’t appreciate them!
Skills to Handle the Customer
Here is a good example of a type of question you would see for concerning gender based language/sexual harassment:
- The statement “Look, lady, I don’t have time for this call” could be interpreted as which of the following types of harassment? (Choose all that apply.)
- None of the above
Answer A: Incorrect. Verbal harassment normally needs to involve name calling or threatening in some way. Being rude doesn’t classify as verbal harassment unless it accompanies one of these.
Answer B: Incorrect. Physical harassment involves actually touching someone or doing something to their body they do not wish.
Answer C: Correct. Any other term besides something proper like “ma’am” can be considered sexual harassment. This includes “lady,” “guy,” “boy,” and “girl.”
Answer D: Incorrect. The statement could be considered sexual harassment because of the manner in which the word “lady” is used.
What you need to take away from this article is interoffice communication and communication between coworkers is the most important aspects of your career in business. Because of this, it’s good idea to look over this article more than once. While some of it may seem fairly obvious to you, you can pick up a lot of intricacies. In fact, I suggest reading over this article when you become a professional and try to put it into practice. Make a game out of it; today you could make it your gender- neutral language day, trying your best to avoid anything that could be misinterpreted. Garneted, it’s not as fun as playing Quake after hours in the computer lab, but unlike computer games, this can help your career!
Steven Johnson. (2007), ‘The IT Professional’s Business and Communication
Guide’, Willy Publishing, INC, Canada.
Matthew Moran. (2004), ‘The IT Career Builder’s Toolkit’, Cisco Press,