(Update as of September 2022: Folks it is. I leave these old posts up in the spirit of open source and as an act of transparency — we are all growing, still, and I can look back at old posts like these and see how my thinking has changed.)

“Thanks, guys.”

In July, my company’s in-house technology department comprised Jason Savino, Mike Klass and me. During morning standups, there would be the three of us and a few male stakeholders - the VP of Product, a project manager, maybe the VP of Growth. But everyone on the call was male.

As I was addressing these groups, I heard myself saying “guys” - “Thanks, guys”; “Good morning, guys” - and I gave myself a pass because it was actually a group of guys. I specifically thought to myself “This is an appropriate thing to say because they are, in fact, all individuals who describe themlselves as male.” In retrospect, the fact that I heard myself say it and then rationalized its use should have been fair warning that it’s not behavior I want to model. In retrospect.

One day, Savino said to me, “Hey, you should stop using ‘guys’.”

"I thought about that," I said and immediately thought-but-did-not-say "See, I'm smart and I'm the boss and I think of everything!" Defensiveness is another great warning sign, by the way.

"Right, but if you can say it, why can't I?"

There are really two lessons here: one, always hire people who will tell you when you’re saying something stupid; and two, there’s never a good reason to gender a group. Even if it’s a group of men. Even if you know for sure that all of those men identify as male and are comfortable being addressed with male pronouns and male collective words.

The Guys Jar

Because we are a behavior change company that incentivizes change with money, I created the “Guys” jar.

Inspired by the swear jar (which, if we’re being honest, I could also benefit from), I’m putting a dollar into the jar for each time I used a gendered collective word. Every time I say “guys,” $1. “Dudes” or “bros?” $1. “Kind and gentle sirs,” $1 and a trip back to the present day.

There is a lot of excellent writing about why we should address groups of people without being exclusionary or gendered and I won’t repeat it here.

The one thing that I’m still struggling with is that after I exorcise ‘guys’ from my vocabulary, something else has to take its place.

To my ear, “folks” feels anachronistic, “everyone” feels robotic and “friends” feels false and saccharine.

We are, in all seriousness, going back and forth about whether or not “homies” is gendered or bogged down with other issues. An informal research paper says it’s fine, but I’m steering clear of it just in case. Though it’s my favorite runner up so far.

Channel to something positive

I don’t know how many times I’m going to slip and say “guys” or similar. As I was looking at the folded dollar bills in my ever-more-crowded mason jar, I saw this tweet by my friend Furiegh:

So, when the jar is full I’ll be taking whatever is in it, doubling it, and channeling it to something positive. Ashe Dryden does amazing work promoting diversity and inclusivity in technology and I’ll be donating everything to her work when the jar fills up.

Thanks for reading, folks.