Originally published in PwC’s 5 Days of Women campaign.

Society is evolving.

Sexual harassment and the assault of women is finally being given the airtime it deserves, with women no longer held accountable for men’s abuse of power.

This is just one of many incremental changes currently happening in the hope that we will create a world where men and women are truly equal. But the road is long…

Companies with more women in senior positions make more money –  fact. There are countless articles on ‘Why Women Make Better Entrepreneurs Than Men’ – fact. And yet in the UK it was revealed earlier this year that the proportion of senior business roles held by women has fallen to 19 percent (down 2 percent) – fact.

Women are more than the makeup of their biology. They’re more than objects, and certainly more than numbers on a spreadsheet to appease diversity targets. Women have earned the right to be board members, founders, senior managers – not because the equality conversation says so but because with women constantly climbing the business and political ranks, we’ve proven we are not just capable, we are proficient, effective and successful.

But women need to believe this too.

While mainstream media still tells us that our materialistic achievements and sexual endeavours are more important than our business acumen, we as women should know better. After all, feminism faux paus do not always come from men.

As a young, female entrepreneur I’ve had my fair share of sexist and misogynistic experiences, whether that’s being told to get a techie boyfriend to cure my co-founder woes, or sitting at a table of entrepreneurs, being advised by a mentor that I would find it easier raising funds than the rest because I’m a woman – which is categorically wrong, and actually getting worse.

Most people respond to these stories with a sense of horror. Shockingly it was a female friend who once suggested, “if it gets you funding/a foot in the door then why not [sleep with him]?” When I told family and friends about the article I wrote about the techy boyfriend incident many women told me not to publish my name alongside it because, “it could ruin your chances of getting funding.”

I couldn’t believe this advice came from women.

The BBC’s experiment ‘No more boys and girls’ showed how treating boys and girls differently at school affects the way they grow up. It is this – the language and behaviours we use every day – that we have to think about and change if we’re to achieve true equality.

We’ve been teaching boys that they should be strong while girls should sit quiet and pretty, young women should do what they’re told but young men should be loud and boisterous. And this disparity spills over into the corporate world too.

Research from Sweden revealed that characteristics seen as beneficial for male entrepreneurs were negative for female entrepreneurs. A man may be ‘cautious, sensible and level-headed’ while a woman is ‘too cautious and does not dare’.

A study from Harvard Business Review, revealed that part of the problem behind VCs not investing in women is how investors talk to entrepreneurs. They ask women questions based around business loss, whereas they ask men about business gains.

It is these subtleties in language that are holding true equality back. They’re destructive rather than additive. And it’s up to all of us to change them.

Be careful not to become divisive by lazily suggesting ‘all men are dicks’ when you’re annoyed with one. Do not tell your friends what a bitch your female boss is when really she’s just assertive. Do not tell your daughters they’re pretty princesses when they are fierce warriors. Do not celebrate your sons for quashing their emotions.

Business has always been about people; it’s run by people, managed by people, created by people, paid for by people. It’s time to get back to basics and re-educate each other as to how we should be talking to and about each other – as people, in person, on a daily basis.

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