For my entire life, I have been met with nicknames and blatant belittlement during conversations with educators, older women and male coworkers alike. Oftentimes I leave conversations with these people feeling like my opinions are not valued. The disregard for my name and me as an individual has impacted how I interact with others and authority. The similar treatment of women around the world has greatly influenced the demeanors and stereotypes of women in the workplace.
I understand that for some it’s easy to assume that women are blowing this nickname problem out of proportion. However, in an article from The Huffington Post, writer Scott Gornto expresses, “Such seemingly innocuous nicknames take away the dignity, love and respect that ought to be due to all people. A single part of your history, appearance or character does not constitute your whole self.” As women it is our duty to educate those who do not identify as women, and it is important because when we allow that persistent male coworker to degrade us with names such as “Cupcake” and “Sweetheart,” this will set a precedent of behavior for him and those who look up to him. As recipients of these often well intentioned nicknames, how do we address this behavior when we feel the power dynamic is stacked against us?
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, your first step is to get backup. The article explains further, “If you're not a leader in the company, your message may fall on deaf ears or, worse, be perceived as an attempt to sanitize the workplace or change the culture because of something you've read in an HR book somewhere.” It is important that you build a support team if you feel degraded by those within a shared space. It is much easier for an authority figure to ignore the voice of one person than the voices of many.
It is also vital that when addressing issues such as inappropriate nicknaming, you plan your conversations ahead of time. Unfortunately, the cards are weighed against us. You must enter these conversations both calm and collected. While it is totally understandable to want to put people in their place after they belittle you, they will not listen to those with an accusatory tone.
In an article from Psychology Today, journalist Susan Hooper discusses the issue of nicknaming in a variety of situations including at the store, doctors appointments and, most upsettingly, in a meeting with a senior executive. In brief interactions at the store or at the doctor's office, it may be acceptable to be addressed as “Hun” or “Dear.” However, it is never appropriate to use such nicknames in a professional setting. In her article, Hooper states, “I believe it reflects an unconscious societal bias against women in general and older women in particular. This is a bias that deems it acceptable in our society to trivialize, demean and be disrespectful toward women — especially older women — by referring to them as ‘Dear’ or ‘Hun’ even if one has never laid eyes on them before.” These biases are both hurtful and demeaning to women of all ages and backgrounds.
When people give nicknames to others in professional settings they are essentially saying, “You are not worthy of my respect and I will show this by not calling you by your name.” So please be considerate when nicknaming others, and be sure to ask if it is okay with them before assigning them a name other than their own.
By Rachel Van Horne, News Editor