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.


At 91, Marvel creator Stan Lee continues to…

By Piya Sinha-RoyLOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Marvel Entertainment's chief emeritus Stan Lee may be in his ninth decade, but it hasn't stopped him from adding…


Islamic State says beheads U.S. journalist, holds another

Islamic State insurgents released a video purportedly showing the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley, who had gone missing in Syria nearly two years ago.


VIDEO: NYPD seeks shooter in East New York…

Cops are on the lookout for an unknown shooter who aimed and missed hitting a man on a bicycle, instead nearly striking a nearby officer in East New York.


NYS state forces thrift shops comply with ban…

Nine New York City thrift shops were reprimanded by the state attorney general for selling children's clothes with drawstrings around the neck and waist.


'Pretty Little Liars' recap: Season 5, Episode 11,…

Caleb's not a ghost. Spencer might still be an attempted murderer. And Hanna's going to die next week. In other words, we actually got some…


At 91, Marvel creator Stan Lee continues to…

Marvel Entertainment's Stan Lee is adding outposts to his creative empire to interest a new generation of children in super heroes of all shapes and sizes.


Mira Sorvino explores immortality on 'Intruders'

Mira Sorvino's new show "Intruders" centers around a secret society that achieves immortality by taking over the bodies of other people.


5 things you need to know about new…

"Doctor Who" returns Saturday with a new star, Peter Capaldi. Here's some things to know about him (mainly his turn as sweary spin doctor Malcolm Tucker).


Shane Greene travels unlikely road to Yankees stardom

Shane Greene was throwing a bullpen session on a quiet field at Daytona Beach Community College one day when the ball started moving.


2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL…

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL tight ends (TE)


MLB Power Rankings: Angels supplant A's, Nationals climb

MLB Power Rankings: Angels supplant A's, Nationals climb


David Wilson returns to triple jump, sets sights…

Giants fans know David Wilson can jump. They are just more used to seeing him go for backflips, not distance.


11 timeless gifts for registries or just because

Gifts to prove you're a style maven once and for all.


How everyday moments can inspire kids' creativity

"The Artist's Way for Parents" author Julia Cameron gives advice on how parents and children can be creative together.


How to stay safe online

Stop worrying about keeping your online passwords safe, and start worrying about keeping your username a secret. Actually, worry about both. According to Shaun Murphy…


OpenTable now lets you pay your bill via…

The restaurant app OpenTable added the ability to pay your bill (and tip) with your phone, thus cutting back on a few dining annoyances.