It’s a good day to think
about the importance of using politically correct language in the workplace. At
the intersection of Martin Luther King Day and an historic presidential
inauguration there is much discussion about race and fairness. We would all
benefit if the consideration spills over into the workplace.
There’s an odd juxtaposition
between the media excitement about the election of an African American President
and daily television fare. While barriers are being broken and stereotypes
smashed we are being entertained by TV that includes award winning and much
acclaimed shows like Mad Men and The Office. They provide great TV and
should be applauded and enjoyed for what they are, they should not be
replicated in the real life office.
Language is important and
words can have lasting affects. Watch the faces of the characters on The Office, they are frequently not
amused. These are expressions you have probably seen on coworkers after
something particularly insensitive was passed along. Think about the
stereotypes perpetuated in all kinds of media, don’t continue them at work.
I’ve worked in environments
where offensive language was the norm. Early in my career I was often invited
into meetings as the only woman in the room to improve the decorum simply by my
presence. I learned much about labor relations during hours of grievance
meetings where I was reminded that more was accomplished when there was a young
lady in the room; there was less cursing and fewer raucous verbal attacks. It’s
been years since I was accorded this level of deference but I continue to seek
a level of professionalism that does not include the language that I hear too
often from my teenage sons.
It can feel lonely when you
are the only person in the meeting room who does not liberally use four letter
words in conversation. It doesn’t feel lonely when the list of these words are
reread as part of supporting information for a claim of discrimination or even
overheard by someone who was not meant to hear them. You don’t have to be the
language police to create an environment that encourages this type of respect.
It starts simply when each individual makes a decision to say the right thing.
After an investigation of a
senior executive (male) for harassment I was having trouble convincing my boss
of the serious nature of the complaint. One day I walked into his office and
said, “How would you like someone to say those things to your daughter?” He got
it. What can you say to make certain that people at work get it?