Gender-biased language is widespread in the workplace

Samsung research reveals the scale of discrimination against women

Women are still being called “love” by clients and a “girl” by their boss as new research from Samsung UK & Ireland highlights that gender-biased language is rife in UK workplaces.

Some more shocking comments included being called a woman “’of my age’ because I required a fan in a meeting room” and being referred to as a “typical blonde woman.”

Women are asked to make tea or coffee almost three times (42%) more than men (16%) and are more than twice as likely as men (50% vs 21%) to be asked about the wellbeing of their children.

Sexist behaviour

Samsung’s research also revealed that women are twice as likely to be asked to do menial or admin-based tasks (37% vs 19%) and are made the target of sexist jokes almost three times more than men (43% vs 15%) showcasing the deeply ingrained gender bias which permeates UK workplace culture.

Gender-biased language is turning up in formal settings, with 40% having experienced it in meetings and 30% during interviews. The average worker uses gender-biased language more than four times per week (80%).

Poor language choices are not just appearing in informal conversations. Gender Biased-language is also being used in formal settings, with 40% experiencing gender-biased language in meetings whilst nearly one in three (30%) have experienced it during an interview, which is particularly concerning from a workplace discrimination perspective. Despite nine in 10 (92%) consciously trying to use inclusive language such as ‘team’ and ‘all’.

Nearly a third of workers (31%) admit that it makes them feel uncomfortable when hearing colleagues, customers or clients using gender-biased language such as “persistently being called lady”, “sweetheart or darling all the time”.

Barriers to inclusivity

Comments like these contribute to employees feeling dismissed and undervalued, with 28% of workers reportedly being put off from contributing in some meetings. While it’s not just women, men equally feel put out when gender-biased language is used, with 28% agreeing it holds them back from reaching their full potential.

Tanya Weller, Marketing Director, Home Appliances at Samsung Electronics (UK & Ireland) Ltd. & Founder of Employee Resource Group, Women@Samsung, said: “The findings have revealed some shocking revelations about the stereotypes used towards women at work and how our choice of words is creating barriers to inclusivity in the workplace.

“Like all things, language adapts with time, and we know that as a society, we must evolve with it by implementing a roadmap that drives greater equality and inclusion.”

While there is always more work to do, the research suggests that UK employees are starting to challenge this vocabulary, with 64% admitting to calling out gender-biased language. Of those, 28% called it out to the person directly, 22% reported it to their boss, and 14% reported it to HR.

Introducing positive change

Yet despite this, nearly a fifth (19%) admitted they have wanted to correct someone at work for using this language but chose not to because they didn’t have the confidence to do so.

Just one in five UK employees is aware of what their company is doing to challenge gender-biased language. To introduce positive change toward gender-specific language, respondents said that workplaces should:

  • Offer training on how to be sensitive to and inclusive of all genders (47%)
  • Implement training to address what gendered language is and how to change language use (30%)
  • Review language in job descriptions (28%)
  • Review external messaging language, e.g. company website, careers page etc. (27%)
  • Use positive messaging/signage in the office (24%)

Louise Mullany, Professor of Sociolinguistics and an expert on the language of diversity and inclusion, worked as a linguistics consultant on the Samsung survey and has provided some alternative words and phrases to help people use gender-neutral language at work.

Gendered words to use and avoid in the workplace:

Words to Use
Words to Avoid

Rate This: