Women’s Wishes: Disliking your boss’s choice of address term

Q: My boss always refers to female employees as ‘ladies.’ I find it condescending. Am I being too sensitive, or is it proper to use another term such as ‘women?’

A: It is not inappropriate to refer to women as ‘ladies.’ Although you might feel this term is condescending, it would be better to assume that is not your boss’s intention.


  1. Winifred Rosenburg

    On a related note, my husband recently had to fill out a form for work that asked the person filling out the form to circle the title for themselves. The choices were “Mr./Mrs./Miss.” I found it offensive that Ms. was not one of the choices. For one thing, not all women fit into a Mrs. or Miss category. For another, my understanding was that in work settings Ms. is the default title for women (if they aren’t Dr. or some other higher-ranking title) because their marital status is not the business of the workplace.

  2. Jody

    With respect to the original question, I (as a female) agree with the EPI advice. I don’t know what the context is, but I’d like to assume your boss isn’t being condescending. It might be the best term he can think of to refer to a group of females; it’s a bit more formal than “y’all” (if in the south) or “you guys” (the Midwest, where I’m from).

    With respect to Winifred’s question, if filling out such a form for yourself, you might be able to leave the title blank. If the other side insists on a title you can then state that you prefer “Ms.,” which was not listed.

  3. Me

    The comedian Demitri Martin has a bit where he explains that you can make any sentence sound sleazy by adding “ladies” to the end of it.

    “My what a nice day we’re having.”

    “My what a nice day we’re having, ladies.”

    It may not be an etiquette violation, but it is definitely creepy and weird to use it all the time.

  4. I would not assume condescension unless accompanied by other evidence suggesting that he frequently devalues women.

    I’m in a leadership position with my company, and the vast majority of our clients and members are male. I often address them as “gentlemen” and I certainly don’t mean it in anything but a friendly way. (And it is, after all, the equivalent, “ladies and gentlemen”)

    I also address other women as ladies depending on the context, e.g. “how are we doing today, ladies?”

  5. jordi

    I agree with Ruth. Ladies is better than girls. The boss means to be polite and no more unless he gives other indications that he is condescending. Better than being referred to as “you women”.

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