We're Not Letting Men Police Our Workplace Communication Anymore

Since women entered the workforce, it's been a struggle. If you talk to any career women, they'll confirm the uphill battle to professionally advance in almost any field is real. To counter this, some women have resorted to acting like men so as to fit in and not come off as weak. A perfect example of this is Elizabeth Holmes, former CEO of Theranos, who noticeably spoke in a deep voice so businessmen would take her more seriously.

As if we don't battle against imposter syndrome enough, it's still hard to escape the box that our cisgender male colleagues have created for us. One place in particular where we witness this is how we communicate — and anyone who's inundated a work email with exclamations points is very aware of what this means.

"Any little things we do can make people view us as unprofessional," digital PR professional Lauren Chassebi tells Refinery 29. "It's quite anxiety inducing to send an email and not know how the person on the other end is going to receive it. I think that's why I like using '!!' so much — it makes what you're seeing seem a little more lighthearted, so it's less likely to offend anyone in my head."

Although we may think we're coming off as personable, sometimes our attempt can be interpreted as sarcastic or unserious. Yet if we assert ourselves in an email, we're suddenly the office wench. But that stops now. Men no longer get to police how we communicate in the workplace.

We're done trying to mimic men

When Sheryl Sandberg published "Lean In" in 2013, it was an immediate bestseller. Women bought it, read it, and assumed that making it in the corporate world was just a matter of pulling a chair up to the table and being one of the guys. But a decade later the concept Sandberg, a white Harvard-educated woman tried to sell, has fallen flat.

"Society has moved on, we pay a lot more attention now to the structural disadvantages women have — everything from sexual harassment to child care to no national paid maternity leave," feminist columnist Katha Pollitt tells The New York Times. "People have just moved on from seeing women's work lives as being determined by their own gumption."

Not that we need to get into a whole lesson about biology, but when we're talking about cisgender men and cisgender women, we're wired differently, so how we interact, communicate, and think is different. Growing up, girls are socialized with different lived experiences than their male counterparts. Women want to be treated equally, but our difference should be recognized. According to gender diversity expert Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, when women are treated like men, it holds them back in the workplace, via Harvard Business Review

In ignoring things like communication styles in the office, it's not recognizing the need for everyone to meet somewhere in the middle. It's not about wanting special treatment, but about eliminating the expectation that women should have to adapt to how men act in the workplace. Isn't it time that they adapt to us? Yes.

Telling women to change is harmful

A successful business can't operate without all its moving parts. Naturally, those parts are comprised of people of many genders. If we expect every gender that isn't a straight, cisgender man to act like "men," we're not valuing what all those moving parts can bring to the company. It's harmful because we're denying them the right to be who they are. This isn't 1960. We've made it into the boardroom, we've shattered glass ceilings, and we're sitting in the C-suite.

"I find it more troubling when people state their opinion as if it's an undisputed fact," founder of software development company Compassionate Coding April Wensel tells Mashable. "We don't need to fix women; we need to appreciate what they're doing already."

Men shouldn't be trying to subtract the differences to make women more like them — that's not being inclusive. It's the very definition of exclusionary and opens women up to ridicule. An office environment can treat everyone equally, but also be cognizant that equality doesn't mean everyone is the same, which is a good thing. Businesses can't move forward and grow if everyone in the company is just a mass of clones who don't bring anything new and unique to the table. 

We need to speak up

Although when we hear that women need to speak up, it's usually about telling our male colleagues and managers our thoughts and ideas, the speaking up we're talking about here is explaining communication styles. If men want to use periods and women are more comfortable with some exclamation points thrown in, then so be it. Women shouldn't have to disregard all attempts at being personable or empathetic in a professional email if that's our nature. While there may be the occasional urge to toss in an emoji, unless you're on that level with the person on the other end of the email, resist and opt for "best" or "thank you!" instead.

One 2006 study published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication found that when it comes down to how women and men write emails 73 percent of the exclamation points used were by women. The reason? Women want to appear friendly. But the kicker is, if women use too few, they appear unfriendly — a balance that men don't have to try to manage.

As long as there's more than one gender, there will always be disparities in communication. Instead of allowing ourselves to be policed, we should stand firm in our communication style. If we need to take an extra minute to clarify to a male colleague who doesn't understand, then we do it. Or they could better themselves by learning that there's no one way to communicate professionally and no way is better than the other — no matter how much they might think theirs is best.