“No problem, sweetie,” K acknowledged, ending the speaker call. I put my phone away, glad to have been done with the last minute work arrangement.
“Sweetie?” croaked a voice to my left.
I glanced over at my husband, who was settled in the driver’s seat of our car. I couldn’t tell if his expression exposed more shock or annoyance.
“Just another perk of the job, I suppose,” I reassured, laughing it off.
But in the corner of my mind, I knew that K would never speak to my (male) boss in the same way. My boss would never accept being referred to as any type of pet name, so why did I grin and bear it? Why, as an educated, intelligent, and talented member of the company, did I allow my supervisee to refer to me as “Sweetie”? Because I knew he meant it charmingly. He meant me no harm and no foul.
It still didn’t change the fact that it stung. Each time I was addressed as “doll” or “honey”, K slowly chipped away at my strong exterior as his supervisor. With every ‘sweet’ name, my status in the company was efficiently dropped down a peg.
When not coming from my husband or my great-aunt, ‘terms of endearment’ seemed to reflect a certain amount of disrespect and insubordination. For instance, K wouldn’t dare refer to a company CEO as “son”, or a contractor as “kiddo”, but he seemed comfortable referring to me in using less than professional terms.
The following week, K came into the office for his daily assignment. “So, darling, what do we have going on today?”
I took a deep breath; enough was enough.
“K, I’d really prefer it if you’d call me by my name,” I said, smiling.
K was momentarily taken aback. After a second, he replied. “Oh. Right. No problem, Sam.”
And we got on with business.
So the moral of the story is this: treat each other with respect. Gender shouldn’t even be part of the equation. It might seem like it’s harmless, but really, the workplace isn’t the place for pet names. Instead of referring to women (and men) in the workplace by the same terms you use for your children, pets, or loved ones, let’s keep it professional.