I’ve seen many articles about being a “professional woman” or “women in the workplace.” This includes advice on speaking up in meetings, advocating for promotions, communicating with colleagues, and talking about your accomplishments. I see advice like “Don’t take it personally”, “Keep it short and simple. No emotion.” and “Save ‘I’m sorry’ for when you really need it.”
I’m in favor of providing resources to support people with varied experiences and identities in the workplace, but this content has always felt like a band-aid on the real problem: Why are we telling women to change how they act instead of changing our work spaces to be more inclusive?
I remember starting a new job several years ago where my bosses were all male. I would read over every email I sent and try to narrow it down to as little content as possible. The replies to my carefully crafted notes were always “sure,” “ok,” or just no reply at all. I’ve talked to many coworkers about reading through a draft email and deleting the exclamation marks because they “diminish your credibility.”
There’s nothing objectively wrong about the ways that women exist and communicate in the workplace. Sending emails with softened language and well wishes doesn’t make someone bad at their job. The reason these things are discouraged is because traits like being polite, friendly, and collaborative are recognized as feminine in work spaces that value masculine traits. Exclamation points only diminish credibility because they aren’t seen as masculine. When work spaces tell women they need to alter the way they speak to be heard and respected, they are telling women they don’t really value their voices to begin with.
Stop telling women to be louder, briefer, and harsher and start teaching your team to listen to and value multiple communication styles.