The Broad Experience: Laugh it up, ladies

office humor
When women are in the minority in the boardroom, their jokes don’t go as well as they do for men, one study found. / Colourbox

We speak about 16,000 words a day. Most of us don’t think about them much. But our use of language has a big influence on the way other people perceive us, particularly at work.

Chances are if you’re a woman, self-deprecation is part of your social arsenal. Joking at our own expense tells others we’re friendly and approachable, and being liked is something women tend to care about — a lot. But while self-deprecation may work with other women, it can be a linguistic faux pas if you happen to be a senior woman among a group of men.

I learned all this from Judith Baxter, a professor of applied linguistics at Aston University in the U.K. Baxter spent 18 months studying the ways in which men and women use language — including humor — at work. She focused on men and women leading high-level meetings. “Men were using humor in a more crafted and professional way to manage people,” says Baxter, “whereas the women were less easy with using humor, and there were often cases of humor going wrong when the women used it.”

This is where the (female) heart sinks. Eighty percent of women’s attempts at humor flopped. Meanwhile, 90 percent of men’s jokes were met with instant mirth. Baxter says part of this comes down to cultural factors. “Women aren’t supposed to be funny but men are. Women and men are prepared to laugh at men’s jokes, but men aren’t prepared to laugh at women’s jokes.” While men could tease others and get a laugh, women used the same tactic at their peril.

Women’s minority status in these meetings also played a part (there was an 80/20 men-to-women split). “When women are in the minority they tend to be more defensive, less relaxed, less self-assured in that situation, so humor doesn’t come as naturally to them,” says Baxter. When she looked at humor among middle managers, there were striking differences. There were more women in those meetings, and women got many more laughs.

So where does this leave those of us who enjoy a little banter at the office? I’m not about to abandon my sarcastic tendencies, or the occasional self-induced put-down. Both can be useful (even, dare I suggest, funny) in the right circumstances. Still, at least I know that if I’m outnumbered in the conference room I’ll have to work that bit harder to crack a successful joke.

— Ashley Milne-Tyte is a radio producer and reporter based in New York City. She hosts a bi-monthly podcast called “The Broad Experience” about women in the workplace. Hear the latest episode of “The Broad Experience” about humor below, and don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Woman dies when run over by bus at…

A woman at the Burning Man arts and culture festival in the Nevada desert died on Thursday when she was run over by a bus carrying participants.

National

Texas parents sue day care center for duct…

By Marice RichterDALLAS (Reuters) - A Texas couple has filed a lawsuit against the owners of a Fort Worth-area day care center seeking $1 million…

National

Santa Fe city council votes to decriminalize marijuana

By Joseph KolbALBUQUERQUE N.M. (Reuters) - Santa Fe on Wednesday became the latest U.S. city to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, with lawmakers in the…

International

Egypt queries Mursi over documents "leaked" to Al…

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt is investigating jailed ex-president Mohamed Mursi in connection with documents that judicial investigators say were leaked to the Qatar-based Al Jazeera…

Movies

Interview: 'As Above, So Below' directors: 5 ways…

The fraternal directors of the found footage horror "As Above, So Below" dish on the best ways to frighten the bejesus out of audiences.

Movies

Criterion's new Jacques Demy box mixes the light…

Jacques Demy, the most effervescent of French New Wave filmmakers, gets a Criterion box all to himself, with classics like "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg."

Entertainment

Comedian Joan Rivers, 81, rushed to New York…

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Acerbic comedian and fashion critic Joan Rivers was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York on Thursday after she reportedly…

The Word

The Word: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie finally…

Well, everybody, it finally happened. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie went and got themselves hitched — according to noted scandal sheet the Associated Press —…

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

U.S. Soccer

5 facts about new England captain Wayne Rooney

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was named as the new England captain by coach Roy Hodgson on Thursday.

NFL

Jets vs. Eagles: 3 things to watch

A win on Thursday night at the Eagles would give the Jets a 3-1 record and just their second winning preseason under head coach Rex Ryan.

NFL

Giants vs. Patriots: 3 things to watch

The Giants wrap up their extended preseason campaign Thursday night by playing host to the Patriots.

Style

Trend: White hot on the 2014 Emmy's red…

White was one of the big trends on the Emmy's red carpet.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…

Wellbeing

4 healthy ingredient swaps to make your meals…

When it comes to eating well, everyone knows they could be doing better. But cooking in an apartment on a busy schedule is a recipe…

Wellbeing

Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…