To distract myself from a recent long and boring (but eminently worthy) meeting, I chatted in the break with a mate of mine about a “friend” – a woman – who had missed out on a journalist position in this very organisation. In fact, my friend did not even get an interview, despite having already worked for the organisation for a long time, being well-qualified for the role and working in the same building of the masthead that was advertising. “Surely, they could have spared 15 minutes to talk to my friend,” I suggested.

“Your friend’s problem is that she is a mouthy chick,” my mate advised with appropriate lashings of irony. “If your friend were a man… ” Actually, I can’t quite remember her exact words, so I won’t quote, but the gist is this: men are articulate, forthright, assertive; women are mouthy.

Double standards are alive and well. This blog, for example, is called Fast Woman. BRW  loves all things “Fast”. We celebrate fast-growing companies in lots of ways – Fast Starters, the Fast 100 and Fast Franchises – but calling a woman ”fast” is not intended to be a compliment. Fast women are promiscuous. (In other words, they talk too much, laugh too loud, and enjoy sex with too many partners, my mouthy friend might quip.)

Mouthy means cheeky, impertinent, insolent, and presumptuous – all epithets that my friend considers compliments. In fact, there’s a whole songabout being mouthy, which is an old favourite of hers.

Maybe there are other reasons why my friend didn’t get the job. No doubt she would be accused of being slightly unhinged if she complained on the grounds that no one wants to reward a mouthy chick, while they would be delighted to promote an articulate man.

I suspect that some senior women were among those blocking the way for my friend – which is sad – but it’s not their responsibility to fix this double standard.

Every male leader needs to look out for mouthy chicks and then ask himself why he is not giving that chick a promotion. (Of course, every woman leader needs to do this too. If only that was our problem!)

Every time a man feels uncomfortable about a woman in his team, and thinks to himself, “I can’t quite put my finger on why I don’t really like her…” it’s time to reflect. It’s time to turn to a trusted colleague and talk it through.

I know the editors who passed over my friend do not consider themselves sexist. My friend’s CV was probably weeded out by a dutiful human resources person who knew that this woman was mouthy, and knew those editors didn’t need that kind of headache.

But I contend the managers need to instruct HR personnel thus: “Make sure you include mouthy women in the pile for interviews.”

Change is hard; our biases are deeply ingrained. It is up to our leaders to recognise that, and steer us in a better direction.

First published in BRW 20 September 2011 11:33