Chairman or chairperson?
By Dr Albert P’ Rayan | Published: 13th June 2016 06:00 AM |
I received a call from an 84-year old gentleman. He said, “Sir, I have a query. Since I don’t know how to use the email, I’m contacting you over phone.” “Please go ahead, sir,”
I told him. “Is the title ‘chairman’ appropriate for a woman who is the chief of an organization? Isn’t ‘chairwoman’ the correct title?”
When I asked him what prompted him to shoot this query, he said that in The Hindu newspaper he had come across the title ‘chairman’ that had been used to refer to Ms Arudhati Bhattacharya, the CEO of SBI.
Is it wrong to refer to a woman CEO as ‘chairman’? The term ‘chairman’ is considered sexist as it implies only men can be CEOs of big organizations. Should it be avoided? It is good to use gender-neutral words and expressions in all our communications. The term ‘chairperson’ is a common term like the terms doctor, engineer, and teacher whereas the term ‘chairwoman’ is distinct as it specifies that a woman is fulfilling the role.
The gender-neutral term that is in vogue is ‘chairperson’. If it is important to specify the gender, then we can use the term ‘woman chairperson’ or ‘women chairpersons’ as in the sentences below:
• Arundhati Bhattacharya is the first woman chairperson of SBI.
• There are only a handful of women chairpersons in corporate India but they are making an impact. (Business Today)
There are many organizations which still use the title ‘chairman’ even to refer to a woman CEO. The site http://www.makers.com describes Indra Nooyi as Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo. The reason they might give is that the term ‘’chairman’’ does not designate a gender, but an office.
The term ‘chair’ is also used in lieu of chairman. According to Robert’s Rules of Order, the title ‘chairman’ is permissible if an organization’s bylaws specify the title.
How should we address a woman who is the chairperson? In business or formal meetings, the woman who holds the chair can be addressed as Madam Chair or Madam Chairperson. Look at this example:
• Madam Chairperson, thank you for this opportunity.
• Madam Chair, we are very happy to present this report to you.
Is the title ‘Mrs’ outdated?
Three different titles (Miss, Ms, Mrs) are commonly used for women.
Normally, a married woman is addressed as Mrs (Full name or surname or husband’s name) but many married women do not want to be addressed as Mrs ____ and they prefer Ms.
They ask why there should be a separate title for married women when the title Mr can be used for both married and unmarried men.
Some married women, especially in India, still insist on the use of the title Mrs before their name. Different women have different preferences and they are inconsistent.
The sentence is ambiguous but one thing is clear. It is difficult for men to read the minds of women.
Dr Albert P’ Rayan is an ELT Resource Person and Professor of English.
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org