Lifestyle & Parenting

How To Deal With Sexist Language At Work In 2022

March 4, 2022

As we approach International Women’s Day, our friends at Babbel have compiled a list of microaggressions Canadian women are still experiencing at work in 2022, along with a list of tactics for addressing them—an approach that’s referred to as a micro-intervention. We spoke Babbel US CEO Julie Hansen to learn more about this, as well as how to best incorporate gender neutral and inclusive vocabulary in the workplace. —Vita Daily

Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey to CEO at Babbel.

I joined Babbel in 2017, after over two decades in the publishing industry and growing digital media companies, most recently building Business Insider into the most visited business outlet in the world. At Babbel, I started out as the US CEO and last year additionally became CRO, where I lead the revenue team and focus on accelerating the business’ growth globally. At various points along the way I found myself being the only woman in an all-male environment, and it is thrilling to look around Babbel and see that is not the case. Babbel’s ultimate goal is to help people enrich their lives through the power of language learning and it continues to be an extremely gratifying journey. Eliminating sexist language is a part of that language-learning mission that I particularly appreciate.

International Women’s Day is this week. As a CEO of a major global organization, what are some steps you have taken to create a gender inclusive work environment?

One simple thing I make sure to do in my communication is incorporate inclusive and non-gendered language. For instance, I avoid referring to groups of people as “ladies” or “guys” and opt for terms like “team” or “folks” instead. This is a really easy step to take. Our benefits program offers “parental leave,” not “maternity leave.” A lot of companies say it, but diversity really is a core value at Babbel and we have a Diversity, Equity & Inclusions team who spearhead initiatives to foster a comfortable workplace environment for everyone. 

Do you think sexist language is still something that women encounter in the workplace? Is it used consciously or subconsciously? 

Sexist language is a bit more subtle than it was 10 years ago, and a lot of the time, the aggressor may not even be aware that what they are saying is sexist.It often comes out in the form of microaggressions – commonplace remarks that have the power to make those on the receiving end feel socially uneasy or culturally out of place.How often do you hear people talking about a new mom like her career is over, for example? While I think that overt sexism is quite readily called out, it’s these types of seemingly small, subconscious remarks that can still be very damaging and should be openly addressed by all organizations.

What are some common examples of sexist language that you’ve come across? 

One common and deeply irritating term that I’ve heard numerous times is the phrase “girlboss” when referring to a woman in a leadership position. Not only does this assume that female-identifying persons need a qualifier to be considered adept at their professions, but it also casts them in a juvenile light. Another is that women are sometimes called “strident” or “pushy” if they are perceived to be aggressive or competitive – while a man is labeled “determined” or even “effective” for the same behavior. There is a clear unbalance here.

In your experience, what are some effective ways to combat sexist language? 

You need to stand up for yourself and know when to not just ignore the comments. (Some comments are not worth dignifying with a response.) Microaggressions can be combated with microinterventions. These are subtle ways of making an aggressor reflect on what they are saying while challenging them to consider being more sensitive. For example, if you are called out for being emotional rather than business-minded, a microintervention could be”I’m passionate about my work, but sometimes society conflates passion and emotion.” Or, if someone is questioning your ability to balance work life and parenting, your response could be, “would you ask me that if I was a man? Please be more specific in your concerns so I can help you understand that they are not relevant.” The goal is to disarm their initial comment and educate them on why it’s inappropriate. 

What is Babbel doing internally to combat sexist language? How do these actions flow into Babbel’s ecosystem for language learners?

First of all, we’re careful in the language that we use in our internal communications, from our company newsletters to emails from the exec team. Not to oversimplify, but often having a woman “at the table,” makes a big impact on awareness and the language that is used among teams, which is one of the reasons why Babbel prioritizes having a gender-diverse executive team. At Babbel we carefully vet all 9000 hours of our content in 14 languages to make sure the language is not sexist – even if it was created some 15 years ago, when different standards prevailed. We screen and train our hundreds of LIVE teachers to ensure that they uphold the same standard as the content in our app. Our Babbel Magazine follows guidelines to ensure the use of non-sexist language and in factpublishes quite a bit of content on the topic. We created an extensive glossary and even “open sourced” it for other businesses to use.


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