Want a More Progressive Portrayal of Women? Consider the Lowly Emoticon.
Ever since emojis made their debut, they’ve changed the way people text and use social media. But what started out as a fun way to use images and symbols to supplement words has become its own form of communication.
Last year, 92 percent of online consumers in one survey said they used emojis, and some social media platforms are even creating their own. Facebook recently unveiled its “Reactions” system, which allows users to respond with emotions (such as love, excitement or anger) to someone’s status, update or photo. Even brands such as Mentos, Coca-Cola and Comedy Central are caught up in the emoticon craze.
But, as emojis gain popularity, some have questioned how women will use these new communication tactics, especially when the emoticons they choose represent themselves. Procter & Gamble made a serious stab at answering this question. It launched its latest #LikeAGirl ad to point out that although girls send about a billion emojis a day, the limited supply of empowered-female emojis only serves to reinforce old stereotypes.
For female professionals and entrepreneurs, it’s troubling that a modern communication form presents women in such outdated ways. Male emojis show professionals such as police officers, construction workers and detectives. Female emojis dance, wear pretty dresses and wedding veils and get manicures and haircuts.
And this is troublesome, because the language that will empower women can’t be ignored, even when words aren’t used at all.
Keep moving forward
Women don’t see themselves as leaders, visionaries or decision-makers often enough, and we need to change that: Everyone needs to see the rich array of roles women can fill. According to a survey of more than 1,000 young American women, 75 percent of respondents said they wanted a more progressive portrayal of women depicted by the emojis they use every day.
As technology and communication progress, we need to make sure that the portrayal of women progresses, too. Here are four ways to make a positive impact on how we communicate to and about other women in the digital age whether we're using words -- or (as with emoticons) no words at all:
1. Reinforce leadership actions.
People -- regardless of gender -- want praise for a job well done. However, when any of us publicly praise a woman in the workplace, we should pay attention to what we’re praising her for. Women are generally viewed as honest and ethical, but not as strong-willed leaders driving businesses forward. That needs to change.
The first step is to focus on gender-neutral leadership qualities. Courage, strategic thinking, innovation and complex decision-making are characteristics we should highlight in women.
2. Acknowledge positive 'feminine' qualities -- but don’t box women into them.
We should make conscious efforts to publicly praise women for traits that people might not typically ascribe to them. However, we shouldn’t neglect to acknowledge good qualities just because they are considered stereotypically female, such as being excellent team-builders or encouraging others. Make a conscious effort to reinforce those behaviors without suggesting they’re the totality of women’s capabilities.
3. Keep virtual communication positive and professional.
Professional and uplifting language isn’t just for the office. Whether we’re using social media, choosing an emoticon or sending an email or Slack message, we need to think about how we portray ourselves.
As a company leader, I always try to lead by example. I strive to be mindful of what I’m posting on social media -- communicating in a positive, professional manner while still maintaining my authentic self. For better or for worse, what we put on our personal social media accounts affects our reputations, even at work.
4. Remember: Intent and impact are different.
Women struggle with confidence in leadership roles, and 67 percent of women in one survey said they would like more support in building their confidence to be leaders. Word choice goes a long way in offering that support. Be intentional about the words you use to describe women in the workplace.
Words such as “sassy” and “adorable” might seem harmless, but they can reinforce ideas about women that prevent them from being taken seriously. Also, avoid words such as “abrasive,” which are often used to criticize a woman’s performance.
Emoticons and social media might seem like fun, innocuous interactions, but every mode of communication affects how people think. We will inevitably continue to develop new ways to express ourselves. But, as technology advances, we need to make sure that those advancements move in a direction that encourages women rather than hinders them.