Happy business people clapping in the conference room, IT Pro Day

The phrase ‘women in business’ must be cancelled

Happy business people clapping in the conference room

This year, the number Fortune 500 listed businesses that are run by women hit a record high of 41. While this was referred to as a “milestone moment”, when you look at the data, that is just 8.1% of the companies listed. 

Women remain underrepresented in both senior leadership roles and historically male-dominated industries, such as technology and engineering. This imbalance cannot be addressed without shattering the glass ceiling women face in the workplace as a result of unconscious gender bias, including: being passed over for projects due to perceptions about availability; being penalised in recruitment searches in favour of childless, geographically-mobile candidates; and discretionary performance reviews that do not make allowances for employees individual circumstances.

This is why I believe the phrase ‘women in business’ patronises and demotes, rather than promotes, females in the workforce by reinforcing the conscious, and unconscious, biases prevalent in the corporate world.

Why is the phrase problematic?

Using the term ‘women in business’, whether playfully or seriously, perpetuates gender stereotypes and detracts from employee competency by focusing on gender, instead of attributes. The phrase itself is symptomatic of the hidden sexism and invisible barriers women face at work. It also subconsciously undermines a woman’s contribution to an organisation by implicitly suggesting that they are being granted guest access to an exclusively male space, instead of co-owning it.

Neologisms, such as girl boss, mom-preneur and She-E-O are all examples of infantilising language,  employed colloquially, which undermine a female leader’s authority instead of tackling the implicit gender coding in titles such as CEO and boss.

Workplaces for everyone

According to Michelle P King, author of The Fix, women do not look like the ideal worker and cannot behave like the ideal worker. So, they are passed over for promotions, paid less, and pushed out of the workplace, not because they lack skills, experience or mindset, but because they aren’t male. Gender equality is not about women, or about men – it is about creating workplaces that work for everyone.

This begins with the language used in the workplace. Gender neutral options are widely available for titles and roles, and should be claimed: CEO, boss, businessperson and salesperson are all examples of inclusive descriptors. As language becomes more inclusive, it will enable individuals of all genders to envision themselves in these roles.

Without proactively altering the language we use in the workplace, we cannot dismantle the deep-rooted gender bias rife across all industries and make them more accessible for women to enter.

Cancelling the term ‘women in business’ is the first step toward breaking down gendered discrimination on all rungs of the corporate ladder.

About the author

Amy Martin has held multiple PR roles in the consumer and technology sectors, curating and managing successful PR campaigns on behalf of recognised brand names. She is currently Head of UK Public Relations at Nextbase, the largest Dash Cam brand in the world – holding an 80% market share in the UK by volume, as well as significant market shares in the USA and Europe. Amy is a passionate advocate for equal opportunities for women in the workplace and creating a progressive, inclusive approach to support female progression in the technology sphere.