I generally don’t like to discuss politics; it’s not considered an HR-friendly topic. The reality, however, is that our current world leaders give us too much fodder to ignore, and so much of it is linked to HR and the treatment of people.
Last week, our prime minister, Justin Trudeau, who as been touring Canada doing town halls, told a woman that she should use “peoplekind” instead of mankind because it’s more inclusive (I’m paraphrasing). I watched the video. It sounded like a joke, the people in the room took it as a joke, but the internet went mental. They lashed out at him for calling out a woman for not being feminist enough. A self-proclaimed feminist, Justin Trudeau had, it seemed, finally reached the limit on what is considered politically correct, and feminist. What might be worse, is that he dismissed it as a dumb joke today.
How many times have you sat in a meeting while a boss, colleague or executive has said something politically incorrect? I was at a meeting a few months ago when the CEO was recounting a story and referred to the subject of his story as Oriental. In case you’ve been living under a rock (or you are that CEO in question), you don’t call people Oriental anymore than you call Natives “Indians”. Besides, unless the person’s ethnicity is relevant to the story, leave it out!
Then there are other leaders who, like Trudeau, go a little overboard, if that’s a thing. There was nothing inherently wrong with Justin’s comment, except for the fact that the word peoplekind doesn’t exist (yet). And the fact that he interrupted the woman in question. In the political arena, as in the workplace, the reality is that we do all need to be careful about what we say. I remember I was chastised once for using the term “manhours” when referring to the time a project was going to take. So, how is that any different than peoplekind?
I promised this wasn’t going to be a political ramble, though, so I’ll get to the point. Political correctness is here to stay. Canada is on the verge of changing their national anthem lyrics to be more gender-neutral. The Prime Minister is touting peoplekind instead of mankind. Ladies and Gentlemen is being replaced by… something, I’m sure.
You can’t even address a group of women as “Ladies” anymore for fear that someone in the audience may not identify as a female. Under the Charter of Rights, there are certain protected grounds and gender expression is now one of them. Which means that you can no longer assume that just because a person looks like a woman, that they identify as a woman. And people who are exercising access to this protection are sure to call people out on any misuse or representation. Rightfully so. Anyone protected under the charter should be respected and terms we use, that were acceptable in the past, are no longer admissible at work.
It would be extremely difficult to list out all the terms that could be considered offensive, so I won’t do that. My advice to leaders and managers in this highly politically correct world is as follows:
1. Lead by example
Think before you speak (and write). It is difficult to watch each and every word when you’re busy running a company, but you have to be conscious of them. There’s no need to curtail your speech, or your style, but educate yourself on politically correct terms. Ask for feedback from your direct reports and co-workers. Political correctness and inclusivity are here to stay, so you might as well get on board now. You don’t need to invent words like our prime minister, but certainly you need to be well-versed on the bare minimum.
2. Call it out
When you hear someone on your team say something that could be said in a different way, using different terms, please do everyone a favour and call them out on it. If you want to truly create an inclusive workplace, you need to stop the offenders. Pull them aside in private to explain how their comment was perceived. For the really offensive, you have to insist that they apologize either verbally or in writing, depending on the severity of the comment.
3. Hire for diversity
I remember an incident where an employee was teasing another employee about a dietary restriction related to her religion. He had never heard of that specific dietary restriction, and was asking endless questions about it, saying it was stupid and he didn’t understand. When the teased employee complained to her General Manager, the General Manager dismissed it as a joke. This type of dismissal is quite common, particularly in places where there is not much diversity in the workplace. While there’s nothing wrong with being curious (part of what makes Canada an enlightened society is the tolerance most of us have for things we don’t understand), it’s important to talk to employees about respectfully asking clarifying questions, and teasing. The latter is not to be tolerated at work, particularly as it relates to protected grounds.
Peoplekind hit a nerve with the public, but it’s not too far from where we’re headed. Canada has an ever-changing social landscape. The national anthem is changing, the term manhours is no longer acceptable, so why shouldn’t we replace mankind with peoplekind? As leaders, we just have to make sure we’re ready for the next wave of political correctness!