19 February 2021

As diversity gradually increases in many boardrooms (still too slowly, in my opinion) we are seeing more women take on the role of:

Chairman... or should that be Chairwoman... or Chair?

Now, I know some would argue that Chairman is not necessarily a masculine term in much the same way as we use hu(man), wo(man) or fe(male).

I disagree. 

If it doesn’t matter, then why don’t more men call themselves Chairwoman?

Well, I asked a couple of Chairmen and they felt to call themselves a Chairwoman would just be daft. Yes, perhaps, but no more daft than the other way around – surely?

We still live and work in what is irrefutably a man’s world, and historical semantics dictates Chairman literally means a Chair who is also a MAN.

However, I know plenty of women who refer to themselves as Chairman.


In the UK, the Companies Act 2006 actually specifies the term 'Chairman' - which is as astonishing as it is unnecessary - and may be the reason.

But, do women really aspire to holding a masculine title? Are they content that it’s the way it has to be? Do they care nothing for its sexist overtones? Perhaps they are actually afraid to rock the boat in what might be a predominantly male boardroom?

But argue I must and argue I will.

I care deeply about the message it sends. If men want to call themselves Chairman, fine. It’s accurate. If women want to call themselves Chairwoman, well, that’s fine too. However, if women use Chairman, aren’t they saying, “I identify as a woman, but this is a man’s world, and I need to conform to get on."?

It sends the wrong message to women, and it also sends the wrong message to men too, especially younger men who shouldn’t be growing up with the potential for a sense of entitlement - that the seat at the head of the table is reserved for ‘men’ only.

Why not use the simple, non-gender specific term Chair?

It’s short, to the point, offends no one, creates no sense of entitlement, and does not attribute gender to something that is absolutely nothing to do with gender…

If you are reading this article and huffing and puffing or muttering about ‘political correctness gone mad’ – there is no need to ask ‘What’s the problem?’...

You are.


Lorri Lowe
Partner, UK


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