The words we use matter; they set a culture, be that for good or ill. 

In a recent tribunal case, an insurance firm learnt this the expensive way; £150,000 kind of expensive!

A solicitor who worked for the insurance firm has won her various tribunal claims against her employer for sex discrimination, unfair dismissal and victimisation. 

For five years, Ms Briggs was paid less than her male colleague despite both carrying out the same role as associate director. Throughout her time working for her employer, Ms Briggs was labelled 'pushy', 'overly dominant' and 'incredibly ambitious'. And these were not used in an encouraging 'isn't she doing well?' manner. The tribunal ruled that these terms would not be used in the same way to describe a man in her position.  

Attitudes in our workplaces are changing and damaging stereotypes are being broken down but this case still reminds us to consider the words we use and be mindful of the conscious and unconscious biases we hold. Listening to a recent podcast on the Tory party leadership race I was disappointed to hear the two male presenters, who profess themselves to be feminists, discussing Liz Truss' choice of outfit for a public occasion and what that said about her leadership credentials. 

So what can we take away from this case to set a culture where all can thrive and be treated fairly within our organisations?

  • avoid creating a mini 'cancel culture' - staff will say things which are not helpful but what's equally unhelpful is creating an environment where staff are worried about making mistakes as fear and resentment can build. Calling staff into an inclusive way of working rather than calling them out when they make mistakes is a much better approach. This may take the form of training, or individual conversations so staff understand the need to think about some of the phrases they use rather than being coerced into doing so.   
  • avoid unhelpful adjectives in recruitment material - 'bubbly character', 'go getter' type phrases aren't always helpful as they have traditionally been gender stereotyped as female and male respectively in the past. Right from the start of the employment journey, ensure you are setting an inclusive culture with the words you use.
  • ensure managers have attended equality training which includes unconscious bias discussion so they are aware of phrases and attitudes which can stereotype the staff they manage and damage the culture.

If you would like any information on what we can offer on training packages on the Equality Act 2010 and ED&I in the workplace please do contact us.