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
Local

NYPD: Man denied money punches 65-year-old at Bronx…

A 65-year-old man was punched and shoved at a D train station in the Bronx last week when he denied another man money, police said.

Local

New York Governor Cuomo's office intervened in corruption…

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's office meddled with a commission he created to root out corruption in state politics, pushing back whenever it focused on groups tied to Cuomo, the…

International

South Korea ferry fugitive found dead with bags…

By Ju-min Park and Sohee KimSUNCHEON/INCHEON South Korea (Reuters) - South Korea's most wanted man, whose heavily decomposed body was found in an orchard last…

News

NY judge throws out lawsuit by Empire State…

A New York state judge has thrown out a lawsuit in which longtime investors in the Empire State Building claimed they were shortchanged out of hundreds of millions of dollars…

Books

Art imitates life (almost) in David Shaprio's new…

David Shapiro talks about his book, "You're Not Much Use To Anyone."

Movies

Interview: 'Happy Christmas' director Joe Swanberg on making…

"Happy Christmas" filmmaker Joe Swanberg talks about the collaborative nature of his films with name actors and the difficulties of getting indies seen.

Gossip

Is Justin Bieber now a Calvin Klein underwear…

A source told the Daily Mail that Justin Bieber "has shot for Calvin Klein" and that they "hope the results will be released later this year." While probably…

Gossip

Peaches Geldof's death was drugs-related, coroner rules

LONDON (Reuters) - The death of Peaches Geldof, the daughter of musician and Band Aid founder Bob Geldof, was drugs-related, a coroner ruled on Wednesday.The…

NFL

Fantasy football: Johnny Manziel could give your running…

Fantasy football: Johnny Manziel could give your running game a boost

NFL

3 storylines to watch as Jets open training…

Jets head coach Rex Ryan might be in for an even tougher job in 2014 after arguably his best coaching job last season.

NFL

David Tyree hiring has gay rights advocates angry

Former Giants Super Bowl hero David Tyree will re-join the franchise as its new director of player development.

NFL

Ben McAdoo's new offense has Giants excited to…

Even Tom Coughlin feels he has a lot to learn about offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s new offense, which makes the veteran coach very excited.

Tech

Learn Braille with these gloves

U.S. scientists have designed high-tech gloves to help users understand Braille in a matter of minutes.

Home

5 New Ikea products that will change your…

We round-up the latest must-have products.

Food

Recipe: Wolfgang Puck's Buttermilk French Toast

We recently spent some time chatting with restauranteur/celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck at his Wolfgang Puck American Grille in the Borgata in Atlantic City. Puck wanted…

Style

Go retro with your sneakers

The best of wacky new sneakers.