Representation

5 Examples Of Coded Language In The Workplace (+ How To Remove)

Coded language in the workplace

Coded language in the workplace is subtle words and phrases that further undermine and discriminate against minorities like people of color, women, the LGBTQ+ community, etc.

Coded language acts like a shield for biased opinions. But this shield doesn’t protect the people targeted by this language.

Coded language reinforces stereotypes, upholds oppression, reinforces bias, and can straight-up mess with one’s mental health.

The catch is, that coded language isn’t always easy to spot, because of how indirect and “coded” it is.

However, there are a few common examples of coded language and what they signify. Let’s talk about them!

Examples Of Coded Language In The Office

1. Bossy

This is a blanket term used to refer to strong, assertive women. Ever wondered why you’ve never heard anyone call a man bossy?

Because it’s considered normal for men. But women are expected to be gentler and weaker, so they can be considered “likable”.

Using this term implies that it is wrong for a woman to be opinionated, and assertive.

As these are manly traits, so they are unfit for a woman.

This bias against women presents itself in coded language with words like “bossy”.

Multiple women in positions of power have recounted numerous instances where their colleagues and even bosses refer to them as bossy.

Imagine thinking you’re doing a great job, only to hear that your coworkers think you’re bossy.

And as if that isn’t enough, you get to watch your male colleagues being praised for the same qualities you’re antagonized for.

2. Sassy

Just like bossy, sassy is another coded word used to undermine powerful women, especially black women.

This term reinforces the stereotype that black women are loud, sassy, and angry.

This term is never used to compliment or uplift women, rather it’s used to tear them down and cause them to shrink themselves.

The term connotes that “you can have your opinions but don’t share them”, or “you can state your opinions but not all the time”.

3. Difficult

This word is as frightening as it is, demeaning. Also used to refer to women in the workplace, and just like its counterparts (bossy and sassy) it’s not a word associated with men.

Specifically white men. Why? Because it’s considered right for them to be tough on their colleagues.

But this label is used to describe women who in most cases are not difficult.

This particular term is quite hurtful and has been recounted to disturb the women who are called such.

The HuffPost shared experiences of women, who had been labeled “difficult or too direct”.

And in most cases, they had to spend time wondering why they were labeled this way and how they could improve.

On the other hand, the men in their workplace never had to deal with this problem.

4. Not A Fit

Now this is a phrase one is likely to hear from a colleague, or during interviews and internships.

When some employers say the words “Not a fit”, it’s just another way to shroud their bias.

This phrase can stem from racist, homophobic, colorist, or sexist ideals.

The person in question could be a woman, who would not be a gender fit in a male-dominated industry.

Or the person could be black or Hispanic, making them unfit to work in an office that’s white-dominated.

So the phrase “not a fit” is basically used to segregate individuals.

And what makes it worse is that people who use these phrases and other forms of coded language may not realize what they are doing.

And how damaging it is to the people they use this language on.

5. You’re Actually Well-mannered/quiet/very good for someone from or who’s……(inserts country or race).

The nerve-racking thing about this sentence is the people who use it think it’s uplifting.

But if you’ve ever heard these words being said to you, I’m certain you felt anything but uplifted.

And you know why? Because this sentence is discriminatory.

Saying something like this only reinforces racist stereotypes.

And can cause other people to look at the race in question a particular way if they weren’t doing so before.

How To Remove Coded Language

Is it possible that you’ve been using coded language and you’re not aware? Sometimes it may be unclear to you how your choice of words can be biased, which is why you must take the initiative to remove coded language from your vocab.

  1. When giving feedback, be precise. It’s easy for discriminatory phrases and terms to slip in if you avoid hitting the nail on the head. It would help to also give examples of ways they can improve.
  2. Check your vocab for any words or phrases that you use for people in specific groups or demographics. Chances are those words are very discriminatory.
  3. Don’t use words that refer to a person’s race, culture, sex, or sexual orientation. If you find yourself using these words ask yourself why? Why do I use such words? And is it necessary?

Coded Language In The Workplace

Words can encourage or discourage, they can tear down or build. This is why you have to be careful with the words you use.

You won’t want anybody to feel that there is something wrong with them because of their sex, race, sexual orientation, etc.

Using coded language to talk to your colleagues can hinder their growth and efficiency.

So you must make an effort to cut out all forms of coded language from your vocab, including those mentioned in this article and those not mentioned.

The NetWerk community is here to provide you with the resources you need. Including an array of free and accessible resources in our career center to help you achieve maximum efficiency.

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Over To You

If you’ve ever been a victim of coded language in your workplace, the NetWerk community would love to hear your experience– how it made you feel and how you handled it.

Tell us your experience in the comments @netwerkmovement.

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About Peace Eke-efeme

Peace is a writer for NetWerk® who believes words hold the greatest power imaginable. Her articles are here to make you the best version of yourself one sentence at a time. Connect with Peace through her website!

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