What's in a word? Let's stop calling team members "girls"


Using "girls" for employees undermines them-and you

As veterinarians, we work hard every day to present ourselves as educated and professional individuals. After all, that is both who we are and what our clients need us to be. However, to achieve this we must examine our profession-wide affliction of referring to the trained and knowledgeable female team members who assist us on a daily basis as "girls."


Presumably, these "girls" are people we respect. They are the first people our clients see during an appointment and the last people our clients interact with on their way out of the hospital.

These "girls" communicate with our clients more often than we do and educate our clients just as extensively as we do. These "girls" are ambassadors of our animal hospitals and extensions of us. We don't do them—or ourselves—any favors when we refer to them in the diminutive, saying things like, "Just make that recheck appointment with the girl up front," or "When you need to refill that medication, call the girls," or "Nail trim? Sure! The girls will take care of that for you."


In his book Words that Work (Hyperion, 2008), author Frank Luntz emphasizes that "it's not what you say, it's what people hear that counts." And as a former political strategist, he should know.

But veterinarians have already figured that out. A decade ago we all quit recommending "geriatric blood screenings" to clients, finding that they preferred to authorize "senior wellness profiles." We dropped the term "worming" and used the more accurate "deworming." And we stopped saying our patients needed "shots" and started recommending "a wellness exam with vaccinations."

We know that accurate, affirming, professional terminology both sounds better and works better. So why have we delayed applying that same concept when referring to our female coworkers?

As a profession, let's drop the word "girl" from our workplace vocabulary, unless we're referring to a client's child or pet. Let's give our team members—our hospital ambassadors—the respect they deserve, thus helping them earn respect from our clients. Quite frankly, we need them to have that respect if we expect our clients to follow our team members' instructions about scheduling medical progress exams or bringing in fecal samples for follow-up laboratory testing.


So during your next appointment, pause for a moment and then tell your client, "You can schedule a follow-up appointment with the ladies up front."

Better still: "When you need the medication refilled, just call the receptionists." Best yet: "Nail trim? Sure. Jenny can take care of that for you." Make a habit of showing respect.

You'll find that it's not all that hard to do, and at the end of the day, both you and your team members will come across as more educated and more professional.

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