Insights From Our Editors

Words Matter: The Importance of Choosing Your Words Carefully When Referring to Your Team Members

Name plate letting people who enter Dr. Sorrenson’s practice know the role of one of her team members. Dr. Sorrenson says it’s vitally important to refer to staff in a way that shows that you view them as respected professionals.

The importance of showing respect when speaking to and about your team.

By Laurie Sorrenson, OD, FAAO

Oct. 4, 2023

My girls know how to do all that.”

I was surprised to hear a female optometrist refer to her experienced, knowledgeable and helpful staff members this way.

I know this used to happen frequently in offices, but I am always surprised to see that it still happens! Studies have demonstrated that language has a significant influence on the self-perception of girls and women.

In one research study1, the aim was to investigate the emotional impact of addressing women as “girls” versus “women.” The findings revealed that when women were referred to as “girls,” they reported lower levels of confidence, perceived themselves as having fewer leadership attributes, and held the belief that others would consider them less prepared for leadership positions. Is this what we want for our female employees?

Our optometric staff is the real backbone of our practice. From the friendly receptionist to our awesome technicians, assistants and managers, they make it all work. And you know what? Patients often judge us based on how they’re treated by our staff. So, professionalism is key. And remember, how patients treat our staff also affects morale, turnover and our practice’s reputation.

Our choice of words, and how we say things, matter. We work hard at learning how best to deliver bad news or discuss risks and benefits with patients. So, it’s only fair we put just as much effort into how we interact with our staff. Patients pick up on these interactions, consciously or not, and it reflects our level of caring and respect.

By the way, according to the dictionary, “girl” means “a female child from birth to adulthood.” We don’t call a grown man a “boy,” do we? Let’s steer clear of terms that could be seen as sexist or demeaning, regardless of gender. There are many better alternatives, like saying, “Someone from my staff will give you a call” or “My optometric assistant, Stacy, will talk to you about contact-lens options.”

Calling your respected, hard-working, knowledgeable staff “girls” has no place in a professional workplace. Leadership styles can vary, and some offices might prefer a more casual vibe, but respect should always be at the core of a well-functioning team.

Let’s treat every member of our optometric team as a respected professional integral to the success of our practice and the well-being of our patients. It’s a small step for us, but it’s a big leap toward a more inclusive and respectful workplace.

1. A Thesis in Psychology by Heather J. MacArthur

Laurie Sorrenson, OD, FAAO, is president of Lakeline Vision Source in Cedar Park, Texas, and the Professional Editor of Review of Optometric Business (ROB). To contact her:

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