The other day a woman friend of mine was told by their boss that their email style was not ‘friendly enough’. Perhaps this seems like a non-issue, but for my friend, it opened up a discussion on gendered expectations in regards to emailing.
Her boss, who is a man, for example, has a very to-the-point writing style. This story reminded me of several TikToks that have surfaced over the past few months of women editing their emails to be ‘more masculine’ and appear confident. This often includes removing softening words, apologies, exclamation points, and phrases such as ‘if that’s okay with you?’. In fact, the differences in expectations between men and women colleagues have been a hot topic of discussion, and display the continuing gender disparity in the workplace.
The question then is what are women to do? Changing their language to be more ‘masculine’ elicits unwanted conversations, and does not always highlight the issue in a useful way. Stories like that of my friend are common; women are often asked to ‘soften’ their email style, whilst men colleagues are not. This can create an uncomfortable office environment and unease between colleagues. It can also create a culture of ‘overthinking’ for women, and even imposter syndrome. As well as this, women shouldn’t have to ‘email like men’ to be taken seriously. The issue is not with women’s communication style, but with societal structures. In fact, adding friendly, communicative features to emails can make recipients feel more comfortable.
On the other hand, women shouldn’t feel as if they need to keep softening their emails. Whilst more conversational emails can be welcomed by clients, emails where the author undermines their own ideas shouldn’t be expected from women colleagues. Similarly, apologising for reasonable requests and using emojis to avoid confrontation should not be expected parts of work culture. Instead, work emails should be clear and concise, whilst still being friendly, regardless of the gender identity of the sender.
I’d like to end this entry with a challenge. Next time you hear someone criticised for their writing style, think about the secret gendered rules at work and call out your colleagues. Change starts with us.