I belong to a professional association that still uses the term “chairman” for various elected positions in its bylaws etc. (although most chapters don’t use this term, preferring “chair). As a director for one chapter (and thus elected to represent my chapter at a national level), I’m trying to decide whether I should make issue of this and, if so, how.
My whole industry is pretty male dominated although a lot of progress has been made in the last decade or so. In addition, we have only recently started to make inroads with a younger crowd (I would estimate that the active membership is over 55).
Any thoughts? Is this an issue I should hang my hat on? Should I just focus on this being an archaic term that tells younger people that this is not a progressive organization or should I focus on the possible exclusionary aspect? (Note: I am the only female director and only 1 of 2 on the board of directors and executive council combined.)
Yes, I think you should bring it up. I don’t think it is a huge issue and not one to step down from your position over but I think you should definitely state for the record that it is an archaic term that does not equally represent the members of the organization, audience or humankind. See what I did there? Yeah, we don’t use the term mankind anymore do we? No, we don’t and we shouldn’t be forced into showing respect for a gender specific title.
It is the position itself or the “chair” that is respect-worthy and that position’s title should be an umbrella term for anyone who qualifies regardless of gender. The term, “Chairman” sends the message that this is a seat for a man only. At one point in history that was the accurate. Thankfully, that is no longer the case and the title needs to represent that fact. Hopefully, because as you said it is mostly older men in your organization this will turn out to be a simple oversight or something that has not been on their radar. I’m guessing the term is something they use out of habit and tradition and hopefully it is something they will be willing to update in order to be more current and inclusive.
As to how you should bring it up, without knowing the structure of your organization I have a hard time giving specific advice. I would approach someone you feel is in a position that can make change happen without jeopardizing your job and just explain that the term is outdated and it makes you feel uncomfortable. You can give specific examples of how this term is used less and less in modern business settings.
From Skepchick Jen:
This is interesting. The conference talk I mentioned I’m doing is for Software Craftsmanship North America, and the entire theme is, “What makes a good software craftsman?” Which makes the irony of me speaking about women as software developers pretty great. I intended to use it as the lead-in for my talk. It’s not one of those things I get super worked-up about, but I think updating archaic language to better reflect reality is usually a good thing.
From Skepchick Bug Girl:
This is something that the entomological society had to deal with 15 years ago or so–It’s kind of a bummer it’s still an issue. Most official orgs use a gender neutral term–so rather than having Chairwoman and Chairman, just Chair or Convener.
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