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Dear Strategy Expert: Gendered Business Terms Are So Last Century
This week in Pedersen’s POV, our senior editor addresses the glaring bias in a strategy consultant’s recent Forbes article.
August 14, 2023
4 Min Read
I was scrolling through my LinkedIn newsfeed last week when my gaze landed on a colorful graphic titled, “What Type of Strategist Are You?”
Never one to resist a personality quiz or the like, I stopped scrolling and took a closer look at Jeroen Kraaijenbrin’s post, which was based on his recent Forbes article with the same title. In it, the business strategy and leadership consultant breaks down what he considers to be the five types of strategists, along with a description of their strengths and weaknesses.
It would have been a brilliant article if not for the glaring gender bias and hierarchical language. Nevertheless, I quickly identified myself as the fourth type, “The Prince Strategist.”
Kraaijenbrin describes this type of strategist as one who embraces change and innovation and often are themselves the main source of new ideas. This type of strategist is full of creativity and enthusiasm and sees opportunities for change everywhere.
Yep, that’s me, I thought – I’m a prince! My next thought was, wait a minute, why do I have to be a prince?
The other strategist types, according to Kraaijenbrin’s article, are: The King, The Servant, The Elder, and The Joker.
At last count, the strategy expert’s LinkedIn post had 14,757 reactions, 765 comments, and had been reposted 3,295 times. Posts like these are effective because so many of us want to learn something we didn’t know about ourselves, we want to be able to see ourselves in the presented categories, and it gives us simple terms to better understand others.
Kraaijenbrin has been a strategy and leadership consultant and mentor at Do Strategy for nearly 15 years. He has been a strategy researcher for more than 20 years, and he is an experienced keynote speaker on the topic of strategy. Just recently he co-founded Strategy.Inc where he helps to educate other strategy consultants. Surely, someone with his extensive experience in business strategy realizes that women can also be fantastic strategists.
I thought about some of the women strategists I know from the medtech world.
Marie Thibault, a medtech analyst at BTIG and a former managing editor at MD+DI, is someone I would consider to be a valuable strategist.
Marissa Fayer, founder and CEO at HERhealthEQ who also serves as CEO at DeepLook, is another medtech leader who excels at strategy.
Medtronic CFO Karen Parkhill also comes to mind when I think about strategic leaders in the medical device industry. Ashley McEvoy, the leader of Johnson & Johnson’s medtech business is another. Brooke Story, president of BD’s surgery business is another industry leader who has proven to be strategy minded, as well as Boston Scientific’s Camille Chang Gilmore. And the list goes on.
I wasn’t the first to notice the glaring gender bias in Kraaijenbrin’s article. When I went to his LinkedIn post to comment on it, I saw that many others had already called him out.
“Fair point. No sexism intended at all,” he wrote in response to one of these commenters. “I felt using the female form would be just as sexist (at least to some, because why not use non-binary forms?), and I therefore doubt whether using Queen and Princess instead of King and Prince would truly resolve it. Any suggestions on how to avoid gender-related sensitivities? Because I’m kind of stuck in available vocabulary.
He's right in that using Queen and Princess would not have been the answer. My suggestion would have been to ditch the royalty terms all together because as frustrating as the gendered terms are, his use of the label “The Servant” is just as problematic, if not more so.
How is it that in 2023 a self-proclaimed strategist can’t describe different types of strategists based on their qualities and characteristics without resorting to gendered or hierarchical language?
Why not simply use “The Leader” instead of “The King” and “The Explorer” instead of “The Prince.”
It comes as no surprise that the commenters who pointed out this flaw faced backlash from other readers (primarily men) for bringing attention to the issue.
“No need to deviate from the topic,” said Sokol Dema, a senior finance professional. “I don’t think there’s a gender issue here. The king mentioned here, or the prince is of course implying queen or princess according to the gender … we should focus on the content, I think, and not to ‘play with words’ … it shifts the focus of the article.”
I couldn’t disagree more. The author’s chosen language shifts the focus of the article by creating an unconscious bias. The fact that a male business professional can’t see that is an illustration of the problem.
It doesn’t matter how valuable the content itself is if the language automatically excludes half the population and unintentionally implies that those who do not identify as male have nothing to bring to the strategizing table.
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