I often observe things in a business setting that remind me how far we still have to go. Most times, they are subconscious behaviors or comments made without negative intentions. Nevertheless, they catch my attention. A couple of weeks ago, I attended a meeting held outside of the hospital where I work. I was with a group of colleagues and we were meeting with a team of people – three women and a man, representing 4 separate companies. At the end of the business discussion, each person was asked to tell my colleagues and I a bit about their company.

The three women presented first. The third was relatively young and began by blushing and stating that her colleague who missed the meeting usually presented this information. She continued with a number of self-deprecating statements. I sat there willing her to stop criticizing herself and simply do what I believed she could do – present an overview of her company. She finally did and once she got going, her nerves settled and she was fine. Finally, the last to present was the man. He began by saying, “as you heard the girls just tell you.” I cringed and watched as the young woman who finally found the confidence to speak lowered her head and looked at the floor. Frankly, the man’s comment made me feel like I did not want to do business with him. It was a small statement but very impactful to me. Especially just after having witnessed a young woman work up the courage to participate in a meeting, only to be referred to as a “girl.” After the meeting, another man who had also observed the comment said to me, “do people really still call women girls?” Apparently they do!

Would you have spoken up? How do you think is the best way to respond if you are referred to as a “girl” in a business setting? I can only hope that as more women take leadership positions, more men will realize the defeating nature of a simple label like “girls.” I’d like to see us reach the point when women in the workplace will simply be known as colleagues.