How do words affect you? Are there words that immediately turn you off? They just rub you the wrong way? That’s how I feel about the word “businessman” being used in a meeting of any kind in the 21st century. I may be wrong, and I pray to not be so easily offended, but in a day and time like now, if you haven’t gotten it, you never will. Your words matter. They can be demeaning or empowering in the context of work. What’s worst is, I hear sexist words more in Christian settings than in others; why?
The truth is, I actually understand why, but my God, enough of living in the dark ages already. It is time to appreciate the subtleness of your words. To me, when a person, generally the person is male and holds a level of leadership, makes sexist phrases, first off, it seems ignorant. Those who do so seem oblivious to the fact that today, in 2017, there are lots of businesswomen. In fact, there are 32 women in CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies. The top 4 are at General Motors, IBM, Pepsico, and Lockheed Martin. Guess what? 2017 holds the record number of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies! That says something.
So, why do I get up in a funk about the word “businessmen?” Because the term is sexist. It just is. The proper term that should be used is businessperson or business leader. Why? To work to get rid of stereotypes!
Okay, so I will get off my soapbox for now. Please be patient with me, but I do want to share with you why the word bothers me so much. When I hear the word being used, typically, the person using it has no idea how much they may be overlooking a businesswoman in the room. This woman in some cases may have far more business experience and a greater understanding of how to cast vision, develop strategy, set goals and use the emotional intelligence she has to build high-performing teams. She knows how to drive for bottom-line results just like the man. But when she is sitting in the room, with a bunch of men and every one of them have no problem with the presenter saying businessman and not correcting him, that is a problem.
Recently, I was at a Christian conference focused on business leaders. The presenter was so refreshing. As he spoke, I listened carefully. What struck me about him was his sensitivity in making sure when he said the word businessmen, he also said businesswomen. He did this throughout his entire speech. Did he get my attention and my respect? You bet he did.
Words matter. Why? Words can empower or marginalize. I hate being marginalized. Maybe you don’t, but I do.
I feel it’s important to say something so that it does not continue. Now, this may not bother you, and that’s okay, but you know that I am bothered and now you may consider that there are probably others around you who are annoyed too. Don’t just excuse yourself and say, “They are too touchy, or they are too sensitive.” Just don’t. If I say something that may be bothering you, tell me. I would want someone to tell me so that I can stop doing it. If I care, I will stop. If I don’t care, I will make an excuse and continue with the same behavior.
Little things grow into big ones. Whether the issue is one that no one ever thought would be a big deal like, you know, sexual harassment? All the things that were said 20 years ago suddenly have come full circle. I bet some of the people affected look back and wish they had never said or did what they did, now careers are destroyed, reputations ruined and families are in turmoil.
If you are a Believer, the world should not set the standard of how you should behave, whether you are at work or at church, you are to set a tone of fairness, justice, and equality. I think Jesus would. When I read the Bible, I don’t see Jesus making distinctions between male and female (some will argue differently, and that’s okay).
Just remember the next time you are in a boardroom, a meeting, sitting on a committee, or in some kind of setting where men and women get to play, men and women are playing equally. They are both needed, and there is no environment where one is competent, and the other is not. Either can be capable just like either may not be capable. Your words, though, sends a message; what will your message be?
Remember, “Let us not love in word or tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18)