Why is it so hard to find a female mentor?

In the last week, I have had three conversations with three different women who shared a common frustration. All three were desirous of a female mentor from within their company, and all three were unable to find one.

Why is this?

The stories all three women shared were eerily similar. The problem is not what some might immediately suspect. It was not a problem of finding a senior woman in their company. They each had tried to reach several different women.

The problem all three women reported was the inability to get onto the calendars of any of the senior women in their companies. Sometimes they could get an initial meeting, but even these were often rescheduled several times before taking place. Follow-up meetings were nearly impossible to come by.

Again I ask, why is this?

Collectively, we had a few guesses as to why this would be. We had all been in positions of leadership. As such, we had all confronted the conflict of a full calendar and a team that needed guidance and input. We are all busy – both men and women. Here are some theories on what might be going on.

Senior leadership is a tough job in and of itself

Senior leaders, regardless of their gender, are often consumed by meetings, conference calls, updates, presentations, and more meetings. It is possible that there just isn’t time for them to mentor younger leaders, given their jobs.

Successful women are busier than others

Women are good at getting things done. As the saying goes, if you want something done, ask a busy person. So, logically, successful women are going to be asked to do more things.

Add to this the fact that women have a hard time saying no. Oftentimes, the reason we have reached a certain level of leadership is because we never said no on the way up. Challenging assignments, lateral moves, whatever it was, women say yes.

You want that done tomorrow? No problem. You want that completely rewritten? Sure! Now? Of course! You want me to reorganize the entire department and increase revenues by 200% by next quarter? You got it!

In fact, I had a senior leader at my company that preached that the only way to get ahead was to always say yes. You can bet the women took that to heart.

Because of their skill and their willingness to take on more and more, successful women’s plates are filled fuller than most. If you think about it, it makes sense. The more you do right, the more the company is going to want you to handle. And if we never say no, there is very little space left for things not on the agenda, like employee development. Especially those requests for development from women in other areas of the company or other companies.

As is often said, there are only so many hours in the day and sometimes we run out of them.

There just aren’t enough of them

Despite the fact that there are women in senior leadership, it is possible that there just are not enough of them. How many junior associates can one senior leader feasibly mentor?

And if the first theory is true, that senior leaders in general do not have time to mentor, this becomes even more problematic.

It could also be a problem that the senior women work in a different division/section/ department of the company than the women seeking mentors. It can be a challenge to reach out across these lines to make a mentorship relationship work. That senior leader is likely going to spend any time she has for employee development on those employees working under her span of control.

There is no tangible incentive to mentor other women

I list this here because I have heard employees mention this as a potential reason they cannot seem to meet with a mentor. It is largely true that it is very difficult to quantify the value of investing in young women leaders. I have never seen an executive incentive plan that listed ‘mentorship’ as a goal (I’m sure they exist somewhere – I just think it is exceedingly rare).

That said, I believe most of us want to mentor other women. We want to impact their lives in positive ways, help them navigate the corporate world, help them to be successful and reach their dreams. But we work for corporations, and corporations set the priorities.

So what do you do if you are looking for that mentor and she just doesn’t seem to have time for you?

The best suggestion I have is to do what the guys do – find an informal way to connect. Swing by her office, talk to her briefly after a meeting, attend a company function. Don’t be a pest, but find ways to connect that don’t require her to block 30 precious minutes on her calendar.

And if you get that meeting, be prepared! Have specific questions to ask or situations to get her input on. Do not waste that precious time! Follow-up with a thank you and ask for the next meeting right away. Better yet, ask her if you can work with her assistant to put regular (quarterly, perhaps) meetings on her calendar.

I appreciate your thoughts! Have you tried to engage a female mentor? How hard was it to find one and to meet with one? What advice do you have for others looking to do the same?

Good luck! As always, stay positive!

“You’re so strong!” and other ways we talk to our kids

A recent Walk-a-Thon at a local school

Recently I have been working in our public schools. Most of the time I am in primary schools. I love these kids – they are all trying to do their best, learn the rules, and understand where they fit in this world. Hard work!

It is especially tough when they also have to learn their multiplication tables, how to write an essay comparing and contrasting diverse topics, and the history of our country. I don’t know if you remember this time in your life, but this is a lot for kids to handle all at once.

Being around all these kids and all of this potential, I became curious. As many of you may know, my big question is why women are not reaching the same levels in corporate America as men. I wondered if there was anything I could see at this young age that could help to answer the question.

I also did some reading. It turns out that we start conditioning our children for their gender roles at a very young age. In fact, the minute they are born they start receiving messages about the “appropriate” way to act.

There are studies that show that we talk to babies differently the moment we become aware of their assigned gender. For example, an active baby in utero, when known to be a boy, is described as “active” or a “future sports star.” In contrast, we refer to female babies in emotional terms, saying things like “she must be upset” or “she’s feisty today!” And just to be clear, this is a generalization. This is not always the case, but it is generally the case.

This gendered talk continues throughout life. As young children, we talk more to our daughters than we do to our sons. We teach girls that showing emotion is okay, and our son’s that it is not. We caution our girls to be more careful, and tell our boys how strong they are. This ‘conditioning’ continues throughout their lives, often in small, subtle ways.

One day, while working with a group of clever first-graders, I happened upon an interesting and telling situation. I held up a picture that looked something like this:

I asked the kids, “What is this?” The answers, predictably, were almost a unanimous “Man.” The answer in the teacher’s manual agreed with them. I tried to get the students to give me other answers, but about the only other thing they came up with was “boy.”

The next picture looked like this:

And the kids shouted out before I could even ask them, “Mom!” This time the teacher’s manual disagreed (they were looking for the word ‘woman’). No matter what kind of prompting I gave them, the kids continued to insist that the only word for this person was “Mom.”

So already at this young age, we are conditioned to see gender roles. We see men as simply ‘men’ and women are assigned the role of ‘mother.’ Now, this could be just the case in this one class, in this one school, on this one particular day, but I don’t think so. I think this would likely happen over and over again in classrooms across the country – possibly around the world.

Here is something else I got curious about. When do we start making gendered choices about our career paths? I started asking every kid I could, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Here are some of the most common answers I got from the boys:

  • Policeman – grades 2,4,5
  • Fireman – grades 1,2,4
  • Duck – grade 2 (okay, this wasn’t common, but was super cute)
  • Engineer – grade 5
  • NFL Player – grades 4, 5
  • Soccer Player – grades 3, 4, 5
  • NBA Player – grade 5

Here are the most common answers I got from the girls:

  • Unicorn – grades 1, 2 (surprisingly common!)
  • Veterinarian – grade 2, 3, 4, 5
  • Lawyer – grades 4, 5
  • Mermaid – grades 2, 3
  • Shopper – grades 1, 2
  • Teacher – grades 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  • Nurse – grade 5

This is clearly a completely unscientific sample. I offer it only as a potential insight into how early some of these ideas take shape. We tell our daughters “You can be anything you want!” Then day after day we present the idea that they should be caretakers and nurturers. We say “Reach for the stars!” while simultaneously cautioning them to be careful, to be polite, to smile.

We tell them we love them inside and out, that they are beautiful regardless of how they look (and we mean it!) but then day after day, we bombard them with ideas about their weight, their demeanor, their skin, their clothes, their smile.

We do our boys similar injustices. We need more male teachers, nurses, and unicorns. We need to teach them that it is okay to show emotions, and that violence is not the answer to everything. Or anything. Again, every day we tell them, “You can be anything you want!” while chastizing them for showing compassion or empathy.

I don’t have any answers for this. I don’t know how to fix this except to encourage everyone to think about the way you talk to children. Consider whether your well-intentioned comments and corrections might be limiting the childs future dreams and ambitions.

And as always, stay positive!

“Learning diversity” – Using Fiction as a Tool

As a white woman who grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago I was not exposed to much in the way of diversity throughout my youth. Every so often, a church mission trip would take us places that seemed utterly foreign to me as if we had traveled to a different planet. But these were places that existed ‘elsewhere.’ They were not a part of my world.

One experience in childhood, however, did open my eyes to the fact that others did not enjoy the same privilege I enjoyed. My grandparents took me on a vacation to Mexico, ostensibly to see the amazing tourist attractions – the pyramids, the beaches, the fancy hotels. Instead, what I saw, what I remember as a jolt of electricity in my belly, was women sitting on the streets with their babies. When I asked Grandma why this was, she explained matter-of-factly that they didn’t have a home to go to.

Even college offered me little in the way of exposure to people different from me. In my small, midwestern, academically elite school I rarely had cause to think of experiences beyond my own. I do remember one choir trip to the South where we attended a Southern Baptist church service. I remember the incredible and unbounded joy expressed during this service – out loud! And realized again that my experiences were not universal.

All of this to say, I have had to work hard to “learn diversity.” It has become a passion for me, and I have been taking up any opportunity I can find to learn. I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading, attending seminars, participating in conversations and discussions. And every so often, it can get overwhelming. I need a break.

For me, that means reading. Usually cozy mysteries. Always fiction. This time, I decided I would try something different. I went to my library app and searched under popular fiction and the first book I could find that was available right away has led me on a whole new journey. I have now overloaded my library holds with books written from perspectives that differ widely from mine. For now, I am sticking to the ‘female’ perspective (in quotes because the meaning of that word is also under exploration), to contemporary fiction, and if at all possible, to American fiction. I feel like this is where I need to start.

The two books I will share below are simply where I have started. I know there are many, many options out there, and I’d love to hear from you what fiction books have opened your eyes to new ways of understanding this world we live in.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

The first book I read was An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Not only is this a beautifully written book, it is captivating and such a great read. The story makes personal the bullet points we see in every diversity presentation – the incarceration of black people, especially men, is disproportionally high. In this case, a black man who we know, without doubt, is innocent is sent to jail for committing rape.

The story follows the lives most affected by this conviction – the man himself, his wife, and their best friend. We also hear about the parents of both the husband and the wife and their struggles to deal with this tragedy.

The story is so compelling because it feels so real. It feels like a ‘ripped from the headlines’ story. I felt as though the author allowed me, for the hours it took to read the book, to understand and feel what the impact of this injustice can do to real people. It literally derailed a life, tore apart a marriage, and caused stress, confusion, and chaos in the lives of so many peopled.

The story helped me to get inside the reality of what is happening to so many people, people different from me, in our society today. It helped me to see beyond the bullet point on the PowerPoint slide and to feel the pain of individuals who are faced with this kind of injustice.

I highly encourage everyone to read this book.

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

My choices of book to read are dictated by the availability at the public library. That said, I am very pleased that the next book to pop into my queue was Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner. While not a tale of racial diversity, I was pleasantly surprised by the differences introduced by the fact that the family was Jewish, that one of the women was a lesbian, and that the other was childfree by choice.

This story follows the lives of two sisters who’s stories alternate as they move through time, the major events of the decades passing by in the background. As time progresses, the lose themselves, then find themselves again several times, in various ways.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot – I’d love for those reading the book to experience the empathy as these two sisters follow their journey – sometimes experiencing incredible pain, other times overwhelming joy. Suffice it to say, I learned quite a bit from these two characters.

I felt through the story the pain of having to suppress significant parts of your identity simply to fit in, to be seen as “normal.” I learned the difficulties behind the healing after significant personal tragedy. I saw a world where women faced the difficulties of trying to get ahead in a male dominated world decades before the present day.

This book only offers small windows into these different experiences women might face in their lives, and yet it is so well written that you feel strong empathy with each passing challenge the sisters face. I am grateful to have had a peak into this window, and hope it helps me to act with even greater empathy towards others.

……

Fiction gives the authors the latitude to fully explore issues of diversity, to provide a different vantage point to explore the amazing things that make each of us unique. I know I have read many books of this type before – I simply chose these two books because of the incredible quality of writing and because I happened to have read them recently.

What fiction books have you read that have opened your eyes to a new way of thinking about your neighbor? I’d love some suggestions!

As always, stay positive! Pass along a smile!

Girls and Ladies and Guys and Dudes – The Language We Use

Dictionary of the English language

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I remember my mom teaching me that when I was little – I was a very small, physically timid, sensitive kid. I wasn’t aggressively bullied, but I certainly had my share of taunting. And it hurt. I tried to believe my mom, but somehow, I just couldn’t shake the mean things those kids said to me.

In reality, we all know that words DO hurt. While physical pain may heal, the destruction wrought by cruel, demeaning, mocking words can last a lifetime. Sometimes this language comes at us deliberately with the intent to cause harm. I saw this happen way too often between the 4th grade girls my daughter hung out with (or didn’t, because they were mean). And I remember being the same when I was that age. Kids can be cruel.

There is also quite a bit of rhetoric in our current political environment that seems intended to be cruel. This language is overt, deliberate, and is used to gain an advantage.

But there is another side to all of this – the unintentional harm that language can cause. This tends to happen ‘under the radar’ and it happens all the time. Slights, inadvertent uses of words that someone finds offensive, the inappropriate use of a cultural reference…these are sometimes hard to spot and generally result from lack of exposure, lack of understanding of another group’s culture, a simple misunderstanding, or personal preference. The amount of offence taken can vary from person to person, even between those of similar characteristics.

It can sometimes seem that we have become, as a society, overly sensitive to the language we use to refer to each other. And yet, it is important. As the demographics of our country change, as diversity becomes more and more a part of everyone’s lives, the understanding of how to relate to each other becomes an urgent matter. The words others use to define us carry meaning and intent. This is why certain words are offensive when spoken by some, and yet not offensive when used by in-group members.

At a recent diversity workshop I participated in, this question was posed to the people of color in the room: How do you wish to be identified? Each person had a different, personal, response. Some people were passionate about the words used to identify them. Others did not, to a certain point, care. The problem was, how do you know who is who? How in the world do we navigate such an impossible minefield?

This has also come up in several recent conversations I have had with friends and colleagues. In one, a friend referred to me as a “gal.” She quickly added, “…unless you hate being called a ‘gal’. I should have said ‘woman.’” In another longer conversation with several women, one of them referred to us all as “chicks.” She then quickly added that she meant nothing disrespectful by using that word (as far as I know, none of us felt disrespected in the least) – and a long, incredibly interesting conversation ensued, covering many things including the use of ‘girl vs woman vs guys vs dudes’.

During this discussion, we also covered when and where we police our language – where we tend to be more cautious about the words we use. Each of us had a different take on this which led to such a rich collection of thoughts and ideas.

Given my focus on women in the workplace, I thought it would be interesting to share this discussion with a larger audience, and invite my friends in to share their thoughts in their own words.

A word about these friends – we are all women, we are all white, and we all belong to a group that believes in providing non-judgemental support for each other. That is roughly where the similarities end. We are from different states, from coast to coast. Our upbringings differ widely, our educational levels are not the same. Some of us work inside the home, and some outside. Some of us have kids, some do not. Some of us are married (even more than once in some cases), some of us are not. We might have similar political leanings, but we don’t talk about that.

I considered editing their responses, but I love their incredible ways of expressing themselves – I am just going to leave them as is. In order to keep this to a somewhat reasonable length, I have not included all responses, but have tried to be sure all viewpoints are covered as best I can.

Some take-aways:

  • Everyone is different, and kindness and respect dictate that we should recognize this;
  • Our understanding of the world and of ourselves changes over our lifetimes;
  • The words we use matter;
  • As Megan states: “HOW we speak to others about their language usage is just as important as explaining why some terms are outdated or offensive” because we all come from different places, have had different experiences, and really just want to get along.

How do you like to (or usually) refer to groups of women? (girls, chicks, women, guys, ladies, dudes, etc)

Anna: For me, how I refer to a group of women depends on who those women are. When I’m speaking about the group I grew up with – the ones who knew me when I was a skinny, braces-wearing, wannabe cheerleader – that group is my girls. When I’m speaking about my village of soul sisters that I developed in adulthood, they are ladies. And when I am speaking about the larger female and female-identifying group, most often I refer to them as women. These distinctions are not something I think about, but rather are conventions I’ve developed over time based on familiarity, comfort, where I am in my own life, and, in a sense, external standards of political correctness.

Emily: If I’m in a group of only women, I usually use the word “ladies.” But I’m also a major fan of gender-neutral terms like, “folks,” “y’all,” and “friends.” When I refer to myself, I usually say “person” or “human.” Occasionally, when I’m frustrated by someone treating me a child—general infantilizing of women and/or infantilizing of millennials—I’ll refer to myself as a “grown-ass woman.”

Erin: I use “friends” if it’s among friends, “everybody” or “us all” or even “peeps”. “Ladies” in business environments, typically. Trying to work more “them-friendly” language into my life – that’s slow going.

Jill: I have given a great deal of consideration to the words that I use to describe people because I want to be accurate and inclusive in my use of language. When I am consciously thinking about it, I typically use the word “ladies” to refer to a group of women. I landed on this word because I like the slight connotations of formality, sophistication, and respect. To me, the word “women” feels a little impersonal, although I think it is also a perfectly acceptable word to use. “Gals” feels like an old-fashioned word that it is an afterthought to the far more common word “guys.” Occasionally, I will slip into saying “you guys” when I am talking to a group of women, although I am in general trying to remove that expression from my vocabulary because it implies that being male is a default.

On the other hand, I have been calling my close friends (mostly women) “dudes” since the time I was in high school. To me, the word dude is an indicator of inclusion in certain subcultures (i.e. stoners, surfers, skaters, particular music scenes). Often when women use the word, it is a way to subversively express a sense of belonging in those spaces, which are frequently male-dominated. I still use the word “dude” or “dudes” when talking informally to people of all genders, although I have recently come to consider that calling a transwoman a “dude” could be very offensive because it does, on balance, still have male connotations.

Megan: In the past, I’ve usually tried to say ladies or women, but in the last year or so, I’ve been trying to curb my usage of calling women ladies, though I haven’t been entirely successful. As I’ve been reading more feminist books and really evaluating my usage of language, the term “ladies” has begun to represent a group of women who act in accordance of the rules set out by our patriarchal society to me. In my opinion, while there’s nothing wrong with calling a group of women ladies, the majority of women I know and love don’t necessarily ascribe to patriarchal norms and in some cases, are actively trying to shake them up. Thus, ascribing a word that represents “proper femininity” to them doesn’t seem fitting to me. I’ve also heavily used “you guys” as well, which I’ve been trying to break myself from, but it’s proved much harder.

Then the usage of calling a group of women “girls”, by men irritates me to no end. While I understand that often that men don’t mean anything by it, it feels like a term that is diminishing to women. If a woman uses it, I’ll admit I side-eye it unless it’s someone I know well and understand that their usage of it isn’t representative of the way that they respect women. I sometimes use chicks, but that’s rare – I’m more oft to use “dudes”, though I’m much more likely to call a single person “dude” versus a group of people “dudes”. I’ve had conversations with several of my friends who are very active on the use of language in social justice about the usage of “dude” and largely we feel like it is a West Coast generational thing to use it, though we haven’t looked closely into it. However, now that I’m not on the West Coast, it does feel more foreign to me to use the term dude when referring to someone. I only use that term when I know the person (or group) fairly well though.

How do you refer to yourself? Any thoughts on why?

Erin: I used to be adamant about being called a “girl” until recently. Then I grew up. But now I just don’t care. Call me whatever you want, I know who I am and who you’re talking about.

Jill: I think that the times I am actually most offended are when men refer to women as girls because it is infantilizing. I am occasionally bothered when other women refer to me as “honey” or “sweetheart” because I feel like it implies that I am naive, inexperienced, and need to be cared for. I have always looked young, and I am particularly sensitive to people treating me like I am a child.

There are also contexts in which men refer to women as females, bitches, sluts, whores, etc., which are dehumanizing and thus offensive. However, there are ways, where in the proper context, humor can be used to take those words back. I think it is common for women who are very close to each other to call each other bitch, as in a context such as “Hey my bitch, want to go out for lunch?”

One time, while we were waiting in line at a nightclub, a man (boy?) came up to my four friends and I and referred to us as “five vaginas.” I was honestly more baffled by it than offended because there is no context in which that would be an appropriate way to refer to other people.

Megan: I refer to myself as a woman, since that’s how I identify, though I have been known to call myself a badass every once in awhile too. Who knows though, with our language changing, especially around gender, a new term that I love and feel represents me even better may be just around the corner.

Have you ever been offended by a term someone used to describe you? When/where/why?

Anna: Generally, I get offended when someone I don’t know refers to me in a familiar manner. Even though my husband, for example, calls me babe at home, it’s absolutely not acceptable for a stranger, especially a strange man, to call me babe.

There was another specific instance I remember being extremely offended by a reference. I was in law school in Seattle in the mid-2000s and ran into an African-American NFL player in a club in one of the more posh areas of the city. He called me “Candy.” This was the first time I’d ever met him, so he was not a friend, and every Candy I knew of had been a stripper. Interestingly, when I let him know he’d offended me, he did apologize and explained that the term was apparently a common name/nickname in his community. I’m not sure if he was sincere or not, but that instance still sticks out in my mind.

Emily: I have several friends and colleagues who use the word “guys” to refer to any mix of genders. I’m not sure I would go so far as to say this offends me, but I definitely notice it and feel a bit of a sting. The problem is that the person who most regularly does this is one of my supervisors (a woman), and I don’t feel like I necessarily have the power to call her out on it.

Erin: Nope. I honestly just don’t care about that in the least.

Megan: I don’t know if I’d say offended because I understand that language can be generational and regional, but I’ve definitely been annoyed before. Moving from an area in the Pacific Northwest that is pretty conscious of how people refer to one another down to the South has been quite eye-opening for me. Right after we moved, I had an affluent older middle-aged white man call me “sweetheart” and “girl” and I was annoyed. I didn’t know this man at all and it felt presumptuous to call me “sweetheart” and diminishing to call me (a grown woman) “girl”, especially since I was buying bourbon at the liquor store.

When and where do you find yourself policing your language? Any particular reasons for this that you are aware of?

Anna: I definitely police my language around people and groups that I’m not familiar with. Because I don’t like it when people I don’t know take liberties with their references around me, I try to stick with the most common or politically correct terms and then wait for the person/people to correct me or let me know of their own personal preference. For example, I always start with African-American, Native American (or Alaska Native), and/or Mr./Ms./Dr. I have had people who preferred to be called by their first names or referred to as Afro-Cuban or Indian, and I always make an effort to remember their preference and respect that going forward.

Erin: I try not to police myself as it triggers my social anxiety in a big way. If people are offended by me, then so be it. My language tends to be pretty bland and I’m generally okay with that.

Jill: One of the main ways that I have really started trying to police my language is around issues of inclusion for trans-people and non-binary people. I think there is a shift occurring in language (at least in some circles) where we are either removing gendered language or acknowledging that people exist who are not strictly male or female. Still, it is hard to rework your brain to use new linguistic devices such as alternate pronouns. I think this is particularly challenging in situations where I know people before and after their transition. However, even though it may be awkward and result in an occasional blunder, it is still important for everyone to attempt rewiring their brains to include all gender identities. I have been to a few live performances where the introduction includes language such as “ladies and gentlemen and everyone in between and beyond” or “ladies and gentlemen of all genders,” and although that language is still a little bulky, it takes the important step of acknowledging the existence of all people.

How have you seen your ideas on this change over your life?

Anna: Both of my parents were the children of Army officers and were raised in a very formal environment, so they, in turn, raised me to err on the side of formality. My sister and I were some of the only kids who always referred to our friends’ parents as Mr. or Ms., and we always made an effort to refer to people based on more neutral characteristics such as city/state/country of origin rather than race or physical attribute. I have found that beginning from a place of formality, similar to at least trying to speak the native language when in a foreign country, lets people know you’re trying, and starts off the relationship on a more amiable foot.

Emily: I used to use the word “guys” to refer to all humans until I read an argument against it in college. I used to call my female friends “girls” until I read an essay about how we never call grown men “boys.” I think I’ve definitely done some learning and growing, and a lot of that came from being called out.

Erin: See [my response to the previous question] above re: girl. So much that my first husband had to take me as his “girlie” in our vows and not as his wife. That relationship had problems and lots of them were me.

Megan: Absolutely. Before university, how I used language to represent myself and others was never given a second thought, especially since I grew up in a conservative, patriarchal environment. Once I got to my very pretty liberal university and into my field of study, my mind was blown about how language can be used to represent us in both positive and negative lights. And after reading a few of the other responses for this blog post, I’ve realized how my language now may not be best epitomizing how I want to convey meaning and representation.

What else should I be asking/would you like to share?

Anna: The one area of language that I think is talked about less often but is becoming increasingly controversial is the issue of cultural appropriation. The most recent example is the use of “tribe” in the self-improvement community, which is perceived to be appropriated from Native Americans vs. taken from anthropology. Similarly, the use of certain cultural references in sports has also been under scrutiny. While the lines are a little more clear when it comes to whether or not to put a label onto someone else, it seems to be less clear when it’s alright to take a word from someone else and put it on yourself.

Erin: I like it when my current husband calls me “wife” or “wife-cakes”, if that helps. 😀

Jill: In professional settings, I think it is best to default to using more formal and less-gendered language, such as women/ladies or people/folks. Occasionally I think that when gendered language is misused, the intention behind is, ironically, an attempt to create a more friendly or impersonal workplace. However, attempting to imply a more intimate relationship in a professional setting has the potential to violate boundaries. I also think it is important to use the same principle when considering intersectional identities. Often the best course of action is to have thoughtful conversations about the words that people prefer. These conversations do not have to take a lot of time, and yet, they can go a long way in creating a feeling of inclusivity.

Megan: I want to share that I feel like HOW we speak to people about their language usage is just as important as explaining why some terms are outdated or offensive. There are so many regional and generational differences in language, that often people just need to be educated on why certain terms could be construed as offensive. And our language now is evolving around representation and gender at such a quick rate that it can be difficult to keep up if you’re not constantly reading or in academic circles, so not everyone will be up to date in how language is best used.

So, as for me, I feel my language evolving. When I am on social media, I often correct a “Hey girl” to a “Hey Lady,” or even just “Hey!” After reading these responses, I’m going to give the word “Lady” some thought too.

And let me say – I know there are many, many other viewpoints out there. As mentioned above, we are all women/gals/chicks/females, and we are all white. This is a limited sample. I’ve already been asked by some of my editors to pose these same questions to other, more diverse audiences. I hope to do that in later posts.

I am interested in your thoughts and ideas on this. What do you think about the words around identity? Have you seen your ideas shift in recent times? Where do you see yourself policing the language you use? Be sure to share.

As always, keep it positive, and have a great day!