This is a true story.
It’s January 2023. The start of the New Year and the CEO steps up in a townhall meeting of 300 colleagues to set out the plans and inspire the team for the year ahead. The CEO introduces the Marketing Director, an experienced marketeer with an impressive track record.
And he introduces her as:
“My Marketing Gal”
There is a deep intake of breath, but the room stays silent.
The CEO has the utmost respect for the Marketing Director, admires all the brilliant work she has been doing and values her as part of the team. His intentions are good – he’s trying to be informal and warm. But he does not understand how the language he is using is patronising and inappropriate on a number of levels – it is part of the insidious unconscious bias that plagues all of us every day.
Let’s start with ‘Gal’.
The company, the CEO and the Marketing Director are British. ‘Gal’ is essentially an American slang word for ‘girl’ – a young, inexperienced female. Not the way you would describe the capabilities of a senior colleague.
What about ‘My’
This implies the marketing director belongs to him and is not a member of the team working for everyone in the organisation. Successful modern leaders no longer talk about ‘I’ and ‘me’ – they talk about ‘we’ and ‘us’.
Would it have been as bad if he had introduced a male marketing director as ‘My Marketing Guy’? Although ‘guy’ is more acceptable (and grown up) it still undermines the director role.
So what is her response you ask? She chooses to ignore it at that point in time, to rise above it, introduce herself as the Marketing Director and displays her seniority and capabilities in her presentation. Post the event, she arranges a brief meeting with the CEO to explain why this is not acceptable. The sensible thing to do.
Maybe it would have been more fun if she had stood up and said, “Thank you, My CEO Boy!”
We would love to hear your views on this. Tell us if you have experienced anything similar in recent times, how you dealt with it, what you would do differently next time, and what advice you would give colleagues on how to respond.
And a final word – mind your language!