In 2014, women got a wake-up call. It seemed as though the universe had spoken and everyone from Pantene to the New York Times and Amy Schumer had finally had enough of women saying the word “Sorry.” It wasn’t that they were saying that women should stop apologizing — when it came to women at work, saying “sorry” was simply a demeaning attempt to be polite, to not be branded “bossy” or “aggressive.” The popular Pantene ad “Not Sorry ShineStrong” shined a light on the bad habit of women downplaying our power. There’s even a Gmail plug-in that will prevent you from using the word “sorry.” But it seems as though the habit is a hard one to break because women still feel as though we have to be likable to get ahead and be respected.
Well, at Glassdoor we’ve decided that it’s time for another wake-up call. Sure, women in the workplace may have leaned in and silenced the “sorrys,” but we’re now guilty of another diction demoralizer. We polled women executives, working moms, college women, and Facebook feminists to find out what’s the one word (aside from “sorry”) that women need to quit using. The response was loud and clear.
The word women in the workplace need to ditch is: JUST.
Here are a few ways I’ve been guilty of using this passive qualifier to mitigate my opinions this week:
- “I just wanted to follow up with you…”
- “Would you just take another look at this file…”
- “I just spoke with the client and hammered out a solution.”
“Just” diminishes the importance of what you do and the recognition you deserve. It waters down your authority at work and is especially harmful as a manager or team lead delegating work to colleagues. Using the word “just” in your day-to-day work life loads your statements with ambiguity as though you don’t know what you’re doing as a woman.
Cut it out.
Here’s what women we polled just had to say about “just”:
- “Be strong – you’re not ‘just saying,’ you’re not ‘just going to,’ you don’t ‘just think.’ You say, do, think.” —Marianne G.
- “Saying ‘I think that’ or adding ‘just’ in front of anything diminishes the following statement. I catch myself using both of these all the time and I find that if I simply delete the words out, the statement itself becomes far more powerful.” —Jill S.
- “Just is a qualifier that somewhat apologizes for your need or request at the time. Men rarely use the word that way.” —Dawn B.
- “Saying ‘I just’ suggests that the individual isn’t convinced of her own value and makes the audience assume that her contribution is of lesser importance.” —Marielle L.
The advice that senior customer success manager Andrea Baranowski received sums up the war of the words for women perfectly: “A mentor of mine taught me that, as a woman, you need to say exactly what you need instead of stating a problem and hoping for a solution,” says the San Francisco resident. “We should be confident in our requests instead of opening the door for someone else to state what’s needed as a solution.”
As with most bad habits (and things in life), it’s never really as simple as telling ourselves to stop and then voila, we’re cured. Popular science says that it takes 21 days to break a habit, while more recent research from the University College London found that the average time it takes for a new habit to stick is actually 66 days. This, of course, does not account for the reality that for decades women in the workplace have had to wrestle with unfair policies, mistreatment, and stereotypes that run the gamut from “dumb blonde” to “boss bitch.” Toeing the line and trying to find a home somewhere between who you are and where Sheryl Sandberg says you should be, isn’t going to be as easy as changing your vocabulary. But it does help, especially in day-to-day interactions.
In our poll, women did not just call out the overuse of the word “just.” There were a few other terms that they felt the sisterhood of successful women (and those working toward success) should drop from their lexicon or only use in limited circumstances. Here are a few:
- “Think, as in ‘I think.’ I fail at this constantly but we need to be able to make declarative statements based on knowledge and data without this obsessive need to hedge.” —Lola B.
- “Unfortunately. It takes the wind right out of whatever you’re about to say. Disclaims your power. Just speak your truth. Don’t disclaim it.” —Melody G.
- “Maybe. Professional women should have confident answers to questions. Whether those questions come from clients, colleagues, or executives, I believe that women should take a strong ‘yes’ or ‘no’ stance on subjects being discussed. Even if the other person disagrees, everyone can respect a woman of strong convictions.” —Kristina G.
- “‘No offense.’ If you know it’s going to offend someone then don’t say it, and if you HAVE to say it then why bother apologizing upfront when you don’t mean to.” —Divya T.
- “I believe women professionals should stop referring to other women in the workplace as ‘girls.’ I don’t hear it often, but when I do it’s usually someone speaking to someone more junior than themselves. Using that language in the workplace is demeaning. Regardless of our seniority within the organization, we are all women. We deserve to be referred to as such.” —Mallory B.
- “‘I think.’ I always beat myself up when I let this slip knowing damn well I should have been more assertive and said ‘I know’! But this goes for both men and women in a professional setting.” —Alexandria Y.
- “‘Like.’ I’m amazed by how many smart, capable younger women make it harder to take them seriously by sprinkling ‘like’s (exacerbated with upspeak) in professional settings.” —Kristin S.
- “Finishing a statement with, ‘… right?’ Make a statement! Don’t undermine it by asking for approval. Stop forming what should be a statement into a question… ‘What if we do this?’ Should always be, ‘We should do this.’ Take ownership of your ideas and contributions and declare them with strength. Don’t ask!” —Colette Z.
If you struggle to receive the respect and recognition you deserve at work and you’ve done everything else you can to make the higher-ups take you seriously, you may need to pause to take a closer look at the language you use. Being subtle or equivocating with words like “I think,” “like,” “just,” and others may be hurting your chances for success, or worse, downplaying your genius.
Plus, bolstering confidence might be one key to closing the gender pay gap. Glassdoor’s gender pay gap report shows that there is an unadjusted pay gap between men and women of 24.1%, meaning women earn about $0.76 for every $1 a man earns. Armed with a healthy dose of confidence and information like the advice offered here and insights of millions of other female employees, you can get the salary and the respect you deserve.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it best: “As women, we must never be surprised that surface equality isn’t actual equality. Society still very much plays into gender bias and role definition. When a woman walks into a room, people see a female. For some, this indicates what she is capable of achieving. This, however, should not deter you. If you spend all of your time thinking about how you are viewed, you will lose your ability to be effective. Walk in, embrace your job and do what you’re supposed to do.”
Be mindful to not speak in ways that undermine your authority and always remember to be your best self at work. Be your best self and do your best. The rest is *just* semantics.