Though unequal introductions may not be on the same level as eliminating sexual harassment or the gender pay-gap, they do constitute a communication concern with negative implications for women. Denying professionals the prestige that a title conveys is a subtle way of undermining them, even if it is unintentional.
Both men and women can benefit from the following suggestions about names and titles. They will help you to stop negatively influencing othersâ perceptions of women, even inadvertently. These tips also apply when you are writing emails.
1. Use a womanâs title. Some organizations are very informal with names, but if professional titles are typically used in your organization, refer to women by theirs, such as Dr. (Sally) Jones.
2. Be consistent with your use of titles. Use professional titles equally for both men and women. If you are mentioning a man by his title, such as Doctor Jones or Professor Smith, refer to a woman the same way. This is valid whether you are giving a speaker introduction, introducing someone to other people at the office or in social situations, or simply mentioning people in informal discussions.
3. Refer to friends and colleagues by their titles when in business settings. You may have a great relationship with Dr. Jones and use her first name when you are together. When you are with other people, however, you should refer to her by her title. You are recognizing her achievement in front of others. If you do not do this, you are establishing a norm that tells people itâs okay for them to call her by her first name. And that may not be the case. (This also applies to men.)
4. Be consistent with the honorific âMr.â and âMs.â This is similar to the second item. If you say or write, âMr. Williams,â do the same for the woman, âMs. Jones.â This conveys a level of respect for both parties. You do not want to say something like, âMr. Williams and Karen went to the meeting.â In an informal setting you might also use first names for both, such as âTom and Karen went to the meeting.â
5. Refer to women in the workplace as âwomen.â Businessmen arenât referred to as boys; businesswomen shouldnât be referred to as girls. The words âgirlsâ and âboysâ indicate children. I know, I know, you are going to say that itâs intended as a compliment, or itâs a way of expressing camaraderie, as in âgirlsâ night outâ or âthe girls I work with in the office.â But ultimately it fosters a less-professional image for women.
6. Do not refer to a woman by a nickname or shorter form of her first name âunless you are asked to do so. Children are often called by nicknames. And many shortened names do not have the same standing as full names. My name is Barbara. Do not call me âBarb,â and definitely not âBarbie.â This situation can be tricky. Sometimes people, especially high-power people, will use their nicknames to seem friendly and more approachable. Christine Todd Whitman, the first woman governor of New Jersey and former head of the EPA, will often refer to herself as Christie Whitman. (Her current website is www.christiewhitman.com.)
Men also can be influenced by shortened names. According to a story about basketball legend Michael Jordan on the CBS show 60 Minutes some years ago, he went from being called âMike Jordanâ to âMichael Jordanâ after he scored the winning basket in the 1982 NCAA championship game.
Start paying attention to your word choices. Though you may not be doing everything mentioned here, you may be surprised at how you refer to women. Additional information on communication can be found in my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.
About: Barbara Pachter is an internationally renowned business etiquette and communications speaker, coach and author of 11 business books. She helps individuals communicate more effectively and enhance their professional presence. (firstname.lastname@example.org)