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Sunday
Apr062014

Episode 38: Women, work, and sex (re-release)

April 7, 2014

Today I'm re-releasing another of my favorite episodes from last year: the show on professional women and sex. It was thanks to the Books and Authors podcast that I came across the frank and funny Evelyn Resh. Evelyn is a sexuality counselor and nurse-midwife who last year brought out a book called Women, Sex, Power and Pleasure. Before reading it, I'd never imagined I would produce a show where the topics of sex and professional women overlapped. They didn't seem a natural fit, unless I was going to do a segment on sex workers. But then I talked to Evelyn. This show is an edited version of our conversation. It turns out there's a lot to discuss. You can read more about this episode in the original post for the show

22 minutes. 

SHOW TRANSCRIPT (edited version):

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This week, a bit of a departure from the usual topics. We’re going to talk about sex and relationships. If you’re wondering about the connection with the workplace, stay tuned…

People come in and they’ve gone for months without being sexually engaged, all in the name of you don’t understand, I have to answer emails when I come home from work, this is critically important, and the kids need me, and then I have a brief to get ready and I have to leave in the morning by five because I have an important meeting at seven.”

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Evelyn Resh is a midwife, sexuality counselor and the author of a recent book called Women, Sex, Power & Pleasure. She practices in Massachusetts. I found out about her through a podcast called BookTalk Radio [now Books and Authors] and quickly went out to buy the book. Lately, as I told her when we met, I’ve been reading a lot of articles about incredibly busy successful people - being a curious sort, these pieces often make me wonder about their love lives.

“The interesting thing about reading all of this content about how people utilize their time and women’s successes in the workplace is that those successful women never really talk about the state of their marriages, the state of the their sexual lives. We never see that incorporated as content in those articles. So…

AM-T: And we’re not likely to either.

And we’re not likely to…and people who interview these women are not going to ask those questions. We’re very afraid of talking about that because chances are the person who’s interviewing them, the successful woman that’s interviewing them, is living as sexless of a life as the woman she’s interviewing.”

Ouch.

Evelyn says many women are so enamored with their professional lives they’re putting their relationships, including sex, on the back burner. She says a lack of intimacy is a huge contributor to the breakdown of marriages. And when a marriage or relationship fails, in most cases women and children are worse off economically than they were previously.

A lot of female clients tell her they love their partners and are still attracted to them, but between all their obligations at work and home, they have no desire for physical intimacy…

“But they can’t make the connection between the busyness they impose on themselves, often, related to their work and the fallout it’s having on their marriages. And they feel 150% responsible for assuming all of those tasks related to their work. Not questioning it…so the hierarchy that ends up being established is, at the top of the rung is work, then it’s children, then it’s friends and family, and then at the very bottom of the ladder is their relationship with their partner.

AM-T: Are we mainly talking about women, 30s, 40s, 50s with families? I’m just curious if this is really usually always people with the kids…because obviously that is an enormous part of your life and a huge time suck.

“No, it’s interesting. While some people have read my book and said this doesn’t apply to me because I’m not a mid-life person and I don’t have children, it actually applies to all women that I see who have made an effort to advance their careers and who are dedicated to their work, because there is absolutely no emphasis culturally on pleasurable living - pleasurable living only comes in when people take holiday.”

And for Evelyn this is key to the problem as she sees it – the fact that most of our day-to-day lives are so rushed and un-sensual, and we only allow ourselves to unwind on vacation. We’ll come back to pleasure in a minute. But also, she says, the women she sees don’t factor a partner’s needs into their packed days…

“Women seem to have developed two primary arterial routes by which they feed their sense of self  – have I had a good enough food and exercise day? And what have I done for other people, slash, as a worker, as a professional?

Part of that ‘what have I done for other people’ question concerns a woman’s children…

“…and what I see women doing over and over again is entirely too much for their children and their children aren’t doing enough for themselves. There is an extraordinary amount of infantilizing that professional women will do on behalf of their children and the concept of good mothering, excellent mothering, they’re not letting children grow up and be as independent as they should be along their developmental lifestyle.”

Evelyn trained her daughter to do her own laundry at the age of 10. She believes women with busy jobs who are in relationships have to make some adjustments. First, she’s a big advocate of getting spouses and children to do more at home – but she says women can’t impose what she calls our ‘cult of perfection’ on them if those home-related tasks aren’t done our way.

But her biggest piece of advice for women who want to maintain a relationship that’s fraying because of a lack of sex, is to make a conscious effort to embroider pleasure into their lives. Say you really enjoy coffee. Evelyn says to get the most pleasure out of that experience you need to sit down in the morning savoring that cup of coffee…without multitasking. She says American culture is so fast, so efficiency-oriented, that unlike many other cultures it doesn’t give pleasure a look-in… She tells clients to make a list of things they enjoy – anything from a pedicure to reading a novel – and make sure they do something from that list each day so they can keep in touch with the concept of pleasure in its entirety…

“Because my contention is if you truly enjoy that cup of coffee in the morning, that the leap into having wonderful sexual intimacy will not be so complicated and difficult. What happens is if you start with coffee in the morning, while you’re driving, in a paper cup, and you’re texting and driving, or you’re having a conference call in your car, you don’t even realize you’ve had the coffee at all. And then expecting people to be able to move into a place of such depth of pleasure as sexuality is like asking them to take a rocket ship to another galaxy. They are so estranged from pleasure in its entirety, in its simplest forms. Because sex is not that complicated. But people have to lend themselves to it in the first place, and they don’t when they are very estranged from pleasure.”

But she says many clients resist making these adjustments because they’re so accustomed to a non-stop pace. She believes they do so at their peril.

“You know, women will say to me, but the work world has changed so much, you don’t understand, my boss demands that I do X, Y and Z. And I say well, perhaps the demand is coming from your willingness to meet it. And I do see this, I do see people succumbing and saying OK, yeah, of course, I’ll have this, or I’ll do this. I actually don’t think that the demand is as great. I think part of what is happening is that in order to feed that arterial route of have I done enough to be worthy of an indulgence or a reward, which is how women see pleasure, as an indulgence or a reward, they’re agreeing to doing more and more and more, for their children, for their bosses. Somebody’s got to get less, and the person who gets less is their mate. That’s who gets less. Pleasure is medicinal, it’s not an indulgence or just a reward. It is medicinal. It is something we must do. It has an impact on the vagal nerve, it has an impact on our blood pressure and our mood, and all of these foster health.”

Evelyn Resh. Her book is Women, Sex, Power and Pleasure.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. You can comment on this episode at TheBroadExperience.com or on the show’s Facebook page.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening. 

Sunday
Mar232014

Episode 37: Leaning In (re-release)

March 24, 2014

It's almost an anniversary edition: this time last year I met with five other women in a West Village apartment. Over Middle Eastern food and a couple of bottles of wine, we debated the newly released Sheryl Sandberg book Lean In. The show was released in mid-April, 2013, and remains one of my favorites.

Back row, l to r: Yvahn Martin, Dora Chomiak, Stacy-Marie Ishmael. Front row: l to r: me, Gia Freirech, Rebecca Jackson (a bit shiny after our wine)We talk about the merits of Sandberg's book, discussing, among other things, her attitude to getting ahead and her vision of success, how quiet she is about how she raises her own children, whether it's really OK to cry at work, and how men are also - or should be - part of this conversation. You can read more about my guests at the original post for this episode.

26 minutes. 

Sunday
Mar092014

Episode 36: Emotions at the office

March 10, 2014

"The business world...men created it, and therefore its foundation is masculine norms. And masculine norms are, 'it's not OK to show those soft emotions.'" - Caroline Turner

"I found...that people viewed the expression of emotion at work as a humanizing force…as something that showed empathy and compassion." - Anne Kreamer

A typical soulless office? (Photo used with Creative Commons License)How acceptable is it to show our emotions at work? If you've been around a while, you may be thinking 'not very'. And with good reason. When you read interviews with successful women, they often warn other women not to cry at the office. Academic research shows women who show anger in the workplace are judged harshly, while angry men are not. In this show we look at the perception problem women face when they get upset or irate at work - and at what can happen when other people think you're upset. We learn a little about the science of tears (not all tear ducts are created equal), and hear a couple of stories of workplace meltdowns. Some of my guests are confident that both genders can 'be authentic' or 'be ourselves' at work, if not now, then soon. I'm a bit more cynical. If you have thoughts on this, please comment below - I'd love to hear from you.

17 minutes.

Show notes:

Caroline Turner is principal of Difference Works, and the author of a book of the same name.

Anne Kreamer is the author of It's Always Personal - Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace.

Marianne Cooper is a sociologist with the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University.

John Gerzema is the author of The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men who Think like Them) will Rule the Future.

Victoria Brescoll of Yale has carried out research on women and men who show anger in the workplace.

Thursday
Feb202014

Episode 35: Advertising is broken - women speak out

February 24, 2014

"Women don't make it to the top because they don't deserve to - they're crap...they wimp out and go suckle something." - Former WPP global creative director Neil French, 2005

"The unpredictability of the work...is probably the hardest thing for women to get over. But then there are other things that are more insidious." - Kat Gordon

Kat GordonWe're surrounded by more marketing messages today than ever before (current estimate: we absorb about 3,000 such messages every single day). Many of them are targeted to women. After all, women hold 80% of the buying power in any household. Yet despite that, few women are making creative decisions at the tops of advertising firms. My guests on this show argue that's a little odd - and that it's time things changed. I speak with Marti Barletta of the TrendSight Group, Monique Nelson of UniWorld Group, and Kat Gordon of the 3% Conference.

Kat Gordon founded the 3% Conference to get the ad industry to confront the creativity gap and work out how more women can rise to the role of creative director. As we discuss in the show, a decades-old agency culture won't change quickly, but with men's help, it can change. (Full show transcript below.)

16 minutes.

Show notes: 

This is a link to part of the dissertation (now book) that got everyone talking about that 3% statistic. It's by academic Kasey Farris Windels. If you Google her you can download the whole dissertation - it's the first link that comes up.

From the She-Economy website: quick facts and statistics about marketing to women.

Here's a good Adweek piece by Cindy Gallop on solving the creative director gender gap.

Kat Gordon posted on the 3% Conference blog about Mita Diran's death, and included another tale of excessive overwork from a top female creative.

Here's a piece from an Australian news site about Diran's death.

Here's the Pew Social Trends survey from 2013 on men, women and work/life balance.

Two decent ads aimed at women and girls: If you haven't seen it yet, check out this ad for Pantene shampoo (made for the Philippino market - I don't know the gender mix, if any, on the creative team.) This Goldie Blox ad also went viral when it came out.

SHOW TRANSCRIPT:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time on the show, we look at women who work in advertising. It’s a popular industry for women, but a tiny minority make the creative decisions that put ads on screens. Billions of consumers take in marketing messages largely created by men. And those messages tend to influence us a lot more than we think. But changing the status quo means tackling the culture at ad agencies…

“I feel like advertising is broken and that the things we value and prize and the way we try to demonstrate our worth to clients is so off, and no one is getting to the root of that.”

Coming up on The Broad Experience.

Kat Gordon has worked in advertising for 25 years. She left the world of big ad agencies in the late nineties to go freelance - she was a copywriter back then. These days she’s creative director of her own agency, Maternal Instinct. She also founded and runs the 3% Conference, which aims to increase the numbers of women in high-level creative jobs in advertising. She started to notice the gender imbalance in the industry quite a while ago. One incident at a former employer has always stuck in her mind.

“We were pitching the Saab car account. And the entire pitch team except for one team member was male, so they had 16 men and one woman pitching this car account. And also I want to add that everyone on that team except for the one woman, she was Asian, was white – it was this white male lineup trying to win a piece of businesses from the Swedes…and if you know anything about cultural bents, you know that’s a nation that’s a lot more progressive than many…”

They did not win the account, for whatever reason. Years later Kat started the 3% Conference to ask why 97 percent of creative directors are men – and what the industry can do to change that. But as Kat just alluded to, it’s not just women who thin out the higher up you go in the ad world. Even in the lower ranks, most people pretty much look the same.

“For advertising to have a lack of diversity is such an oxymoron to me, I think it’s just bizarre.”

That’s Monique Nelson. She’s the CEO of Uniworld Group, a multicultural marketing agency based in New York.

“We should reflect the people that we’re talking to, shameless plug for Uniworld Group, but the one thing I love about my agency is we are diverse, and that’s huge. But yeah, Madison Avenue has a long way to go with respect to not only female, but diversity in its truest form. My dream would be we really do reflect, especially here in the US, the American experience, which is not white and male, dominantly.”

For one thing, America is going to be majority non-white within the next few decades. And women make more than 80 percent of the buying decisions in any household. Yet they’re usually not deciding what goes into the ads we see – and we apparently take in more than 3,000 marketing messages a day. Marti Barletta runs the Trendsight Group, which specializes in marketing to women.

“Most of the time in the world people don’t understand the differences between men and women and the problem with that in advertising is that the role of advertising is to interest, motivate and persuade people who very often are quite different from you.”

And she says that can be a problem if a team of guys is creating, say, a car campaign and doesn’t realize men and women come to decisions in quite different ways.

“So one of the things, stereotypes about women you may have heard, is that women are fickle, they can’t make up their minds, they change their minds all the time. Now what really is going on there is that women’s decision process is quite enormously different from men’s decision process.  It’s one of the things that surprised me the most, because you wouldn’t think it would be gender-related, but it actually is.”

She says for instance men tend to make buying decisions in a fairly linear way. Women on the other hand are more likely to take in multiple strands of information as they research a product, and change their mind depending on what they learn…

“So women’s process tends to loop back very often throughout the process as she learns more and more things about the product, the dealership, what her friend have preferred, etcetera. “

Marti Barletta and Kat Gordon both say it’s not that women are all fabulous at marketing to other women. Men have created some fantastic ads that do very well with female consumers. The industry needs a mixture of thinking, Kat Gordon says.

In that case, I had a question for her.

AM-T: “It’s sort of ironic because you’re making this point in your work that there just aren’t… that only 3% of top creatives are women. And yet you left the agency world yourself because you felt you couldn’t stay there and raise your children. And this is the problem, isn’t it?”

“It’s a huge part of the problem, absolutely. I revisit that time in my own mind, and I try to think…I don’t ever remember  thinking it was an option to stay and have kids…I don’t remember ever seeing anyone in leadership who was pregnant. So I’m not suggesting that they told me I couldn’t, I just somehow didn’t think it was possible. And I was commuting every day from Palo Alto to San Francisco and it was a long day, and I just I remember thinking, ‘I can’t do this job and be the kind of mother I think I want to be.’ “

She has that in common with a lot of women from many industries. But there are  some outliers. I told Kat about a woman I’d interviewed last year for a magazine piece. Her name is Marlene Hore and she spent years as a top advertising executive in Canada. She became a creative director in the 80s. She loved her job. She told me something I don’t hear many women say out loud. She had two daughters during the height of her career. She told me her daughters would have liked to have her at home a lot more during their childhood, and that she had missed out on plenty of ballet recitals and dinners at home. She said she adored her children but added, “I had to do something that was ‘me’.”

“Yeah, you know one of the things I heard Sheryl Sandberg say recently, I was lucky, I got to meet her and she gave a talk, and she talked about how no one at her level or in any kind of senior leadership talks about how joyful it can be to work – you know, it’s always about how to juggle it and how to do it all, and it’s kind of, even the language we use has built into it that it’s going to suck, or it’s going be hard, and that no one really talks about how wonderful it is, man or woman, to feel like you are using your gifts, making a difference, having an impact, and that’ something she’s trying to do, to show that she loves her work. And it sounds like this woman you just described felt the same way. I do think that’s part of the conversation that hasn’t really taken root yet and needs to.”

At the 3% Conference she says there’s no whingeing or hand-wringing. She’s actually trying to isolate what it is that keeps women out of top creative roles, so agencies can change the way they do things. She says there’s no doubt that having kids and wanting to spend time with them is a major issue women creatives have to grapple with.

“So it really is at that – I heard someone call it the messy middle – it’s right in those years where you’re maybe in your early thirties, you’ve got enough experience at that point to become an associate creative director, and you’re right at that point where you’re thinking of having a family, as I did. The types of things that make it so difficult for women with small children – and men as well, I don’t want to leave them out of this – is the unpredictability of the work…you know, for anyone that’s worked as creative director, copywriter, art director, you know you go into a client presentation, you don’t know if you’re going to sell the work and if you don’t you’re under the gun to produce something new that they’re going to like…often it can mean working all weekend or working late, or hop on a plane to go present again.

So that’s probably the hardest thing for women to get over. But then there are other things that are more insidious – one of the big things I noticed when I worked in the agency world is you get trained to be a creative thinker but you don’t get trained at portfolio school, I’m hoping this has changed, but you’re not trained to sell your work and to be a really persuasive presenter. A lot of women leave that to their male partners or account directors, so they are not selling their work, so they’re letting someone else take the glory, someone else learn how to deflect criticism and get a client to fall in love with something, which is a really important skill…and I see that lack of confidence carry through into things like women not entering their work into awards shows, women not being jurors of award shows, women not speaking at conferences, women not writing op-ed pieces. It’s a visibility issue. So that’s another challenge for women in advertising is getting them to believe their opinion matters, getting them to speak up, getting them to put their face out there, getting them to enter their work in awards shows. And then mentorship. You just can’t downplay that you need someone – and sponsorship -  you need someone  to see the talent in you and open doors for you, and what’s very sad,  is many well intended men are nervous about mentoring young women as it can look unsavory – they don’t want to look like a lech inviting the young copywriter to lunch. And one of things I say to men when we go on our roadshows or they come to our event is please get over that and don’t care what others might think, because these women need you more than you can imagine. And if you are a woman who’s achieved success, mentor as well: women really need other women pulling them up and advocating for them and giving them insight into how to navigate that messy middle.”

So I asked, do the men actually get it? She says most agencies are clamoring for guidance on how to keep women and some guys do understand the issues. Others are learning to. She uses a recent conference as an example. There were four male creative directors on a panel.

“And the one thing that happened that was so interesting…sexism came up, the male advantage, sexism, and I can’t remember which but – one of the panelists came up and said that’s old school, that doesn’t happen any more. The female panelist said guys, I hate to tell you, it does still go on…and everyone in the audience was kind of nodding along, so I do think it’s one of those things that if you haven’t experienced it first hand it’s hard to believe it happens to the degree it does. So I do think men are aware they’re losing female talent, but I don’t think they’re always aware of all the little things that happen that contribute to women giving up.”

Of course those hours we talked about a bit earlier – they’re a big thing, and they can be brutal. At the end of last year a young copywriter in Indonesia called Mita Diran collapsed and died not long after tweeting that she’d worked 30 hours straight on a client project. Kat says those kinds of stories make her despair, because there’s no need for anyone to drive themselves that hard.

“The thing that I keep saying, and I feel like this lone voice saying this, those kinds of work environments and that kind of pushing yourself to the limit does not result in creative output - it’s been proven, if you look at where ideas flourish and where amazing synapses connect in your brain, it is not at 2a.m. in a war room of an agency after you’ve been drinking Red Bull all day. That’s a recipe for disaster. So I feel like advertising is broken and that the things we value and prize and the way we try to demonstrate our worth to clients is so off, and no one is getting to the root of that, because if you really want to create great work for your clients that’s going to be motivating to consumers you would not run your agency the way you do. And I think if I were a client today and I knew what my customer base looked like, and chances are it’s mostly female, and I knew that by demanding something to be done in a crazy turnaround kind of crash and burn, and that meant the female creatives at the agency would be less likely to be able to service my business, why is that a worthwhile trade? I think it’s actually lunacy.”

She says things are changing at big companies like Google that have in-house creative departments. There everyone works together as a team to create the best work. But in the agency world, there’s still that imperative to prove yourself to the client…

“People say, well, that’s just the way it is, and I think wow, if that’s how much the agency culture is cemented in people’s minds…I don’t know, maybe I’m enough of an outsider, maybe it’s because I live in Silicon Valley and work with a lot of startups, and I’m trained to think differently and ask questions, but I don’t think it’s working, and I don’t think the men are happy either.”

Last year a survey from Pew Social Trends in the US revealed half of working dads felt stressed trying to balance work and family life – that’s compared to 56% of working mothers.

“And on the one hand I feel sad that now our brothers are feeling the pinch too, but in a way I think it’s necessary because until the HR departments are hearing a chorus of voices crying uncle and saying this is just untenable, things don’t change.”

So men, speak up. The next 3% Conference takes place in November this year in San Fransisco.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time.

The Broad Experience is a member of the Mule Radio Syndicate – go to Mule Radio dot net to check out other great podcasts including This is Actually Happening…and Let’s Make Mistakes.

As usual I’ll be posting show notes under this episode at The Broad Experience.com. You can comment on what you’ve just heard on the website or on the show’s Facebook page. In the unlikely event you can’t get enough of me, you can sign up for the weekly newsletter, also on the homepage.

And if you can, please consider throwing in a few bucks to support what I’m doing by clicking on the ‘support’ link at The Broad Experience.com. I’m thinking of setting up a more formal way of supporting the show via another website – if you have ideas about the kids of rewards you’d like to receive for donating a little money, please let me know what they are. I’m at Ashley at The Broad Experience dot com.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.

 

 

Sunday
Feb092014

Episode 34: Make them laugh - women, men, and humor at the office

February 10, 2014

"Women aren’t supposed to be funny, but men are. And both men and women are prepared to laugh at men, but very few men seem to be prepared to laugh at women’s jokes." - Judith Baxter

Judith BaxterIn what I hope will be the first of several shows on language and communication, we're looking at humor as a leadership trait. I've always thought of humor as a great way to break the ice or keep things bearable in an otherwise boring or stressful work environment. But it turns out if you're a senior woman in a corporation, the use of humor can be fraught with unintended consequences, few of them funny. Always a devotee of the self-deprecating joke, I was surprised to learn from my guest, professor of linguistics Judith Baxter, that these self-directed barbs don't go down well when women deploy them in board meetings. Tune into the show to find out what happens when senior men and women use banter or otherwise joke around. Ponder why this form of office communication works for men, but not their female counterparts. And laugh. Or grit your teeth, depending on your level of frustration. (Full show transcript below.)

10 minutes.

If these experiences ring true, or false, do leave a comment below.

Show notes: Here's a blog post I wrote recently about 'double voice discourse', one of Judith Baxter's other areas of expertise (I bet you've used it).

This piece about Judith and her research - and the humor consultancy we mentioned - appears on The Glass Hammer website.

If you haven't yet read it, I highly recommend Tina Fey's book Bossypants. It's not only hilarious but has recommendations about dealing with difficult people and situations in the workplace - even a workplace devoted to crafting jokes.  

SHOW TRANSCRIPT:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time on the show, you’ve heard it before – women aren’t funny – or at least not as hilarious as men. I talk to a linguist who has studied the way senior women and men use humor in the workplace…

“Men were using it more often and were using it in a way that produced a laugh whereas when women used it, less often, they often didn’t get a laugh.”

In fact 80 percent of their jokes fell flat. Keep listening to find out why. 

Judith Baxter is a professor of applied linguists at Aston University in England. I first read about her work on language and gender more than a year ago. I was fascinated by it because our use of language in the workplace is one of those things most of us don’t think about – yet it has a big effect on the way other people perceive us.

Judith and a colleague did their research for their latest study over an 18-month period at seven multinational companies based in the UK. They spent many hours recording and studying the language of senior men and women while they were conducting high-level meetings.  Judith and I spoke on Skype.

“As I believe language is one of the main ways in which we construct our identities in the workplace, I just wanted to find out if there was something happening in a meeting – um, people spend so long in meetings, some managers are in meetings nearly all day. So it’s obviously a key experience for them, so I went in wanting to analyze the language they use.”

And what she found was that men joked more than women – and their use of humor was more successful…

“In that they were using humor in a more crafted and professional way to manage people, whereas the women were perhaps less easy with using humor, and often there were cases of humor going wrong when the women used it. Men were using it more often and in way that produced a laugh. Whereas when women used it…less often, they often didn’t get a laugh from others round the room, so I was quite interested in knowing why that was the case.”

AM-T: Yeah. Well when you say men were using it in a sort of…they were more deft in their use of humor…give me an example.

“It would be a case of using humor if a colleague was difficult. If conflict was brewing, a male leader would often use humor to banter with the person being difficult - you’d have a running gag or sequence of witticisms going through the discussion, where very often the male manager was joking with the person being difficult, and it would diffuse the situation and people ended up laughing rather than disagreeing with eachother. To me that was a very skilled use of language to get a positive outcome with a difficult colleague.”

AM-T: But what about with women then – how did you see it backfire with women?

“Well I do believe that men and women can use humor in exactly the same ways, but when it’s a situation where women are in the minority women, I think women tend to feel a bit more defensive, less relaxed, less self assured in that situation, and therefore humor doesn’t come quite so naturally to them. When they did use humor it tended to be quite self deprecating, in the sense of they would turn the humor against themselves and mock themselves, rather than what the men did, which was to mock other people. So men were happy to tease or kind of use jocular abuse against other colleagues, whereas women tended not to do that or they did it at their peril. When they did do it, it often didn’t work.”

And this self-deprecating humor didn’t go down well much of the time. Which struck me as odd, because as a woman I’m very familiar with self-deprecation. Nearly all women use it. And we like it, because as Judith says, it makes us seem approachable.

“If you criticize yourself or mock yourself, then you are less of a threat to other people. So if women are a threat to men in that kind of context, and some women think they are, one of the ways they can dilute that threat is to have a joke at their own expense…it’s much more high risk to joke at someone else’s expense because you can’t be sure anyone’s going to laugh at that and it could be seen as insulting, but if they make a joke at own expense then no one else is losing face. So it seems to me it’s done as a means of saying look I’m not threatening, I’m somebody that you can get on with, you don’t have to worry about me.”

That kind of humor may work in a group of women, but remember if a senior woman was leading a meeting Judith was observing she was still in a minority in the room – there was about an 80/20 split of men to women. And in a meeting that was made up largely of men, the tactic of making fun of herself often flopped, and the woman came across as needy or defensive.

Judith found that at these high-level meetings, more than 80 percent of women’s jokes were met with silence. Meanwhile 90 percent of men’s jokes got instant laugher or approval. Why?

“Well I think this is a lot to do with cultural assumptions about who is funny in our western society – in the sense that traditionally men are the ones who are the comics, who make the jokes, on stage, etc. and women are meant to be a supportive audience who laugh at the jokes…culturally there are still very few examples of women as standup comics for example, and very few role models of women who are funny, whereas there are dozens and dozens of men who do that very well. So I think it’s about the fact that women aren’t supposed to be funny, but men are – and both men and women are prepared to laugh at men, but very few men seem to be prepared to laugh at women’s jokes – they’ll laugh at women but not with women.”

Judith found things changed a lot when she looked at humor among middle managers. In those cases the gender distribution in the room was much more equal.

There were many more women at that level, and men and women were using humor in similar ways. She says the women felt much more comfortable in that situation, and they got more laughs.

But what about the fact men joke around in meetings more than women, especially with other men…

“I think men do it as a form of bonding, perhaps they don’t get the same opportunities to go and have a chat over coffee as women do. Women find these sort of moments to connect with eachother socially whereas I think men in the workplace tend to do that less so, so humor is their kind of way of bonding with eachother in these more public situations.”

And it turns out some companies in the US take humor very seriously. They want to encourage bonding between company and client – all through a few laughs. And they’re prepared to pay for it…

AM-T: “I was just floored and amused to learn that here in the States on the west coast, there’s actually a consultancy that ‘teaches businesses how to employ humor in order to make a more genuine, human connection with their clients,’ and I thought, ‘God, how American, you know that there’s actually a consultancy that teaches companies how to be funny.”

“That is interesting. I mean humor is just another resource for doing leadership. If you think of leadership being about the way we speak and interact primarily, There’s a whole range of ways we can use language to be incredibly effective and influential – and humor is just part of the toolkit. So I can understand that. I mean I think it’s probably harder to teach people to be funny, but there are things you can encourage people to do. It’s a mindset really, if you can change people’s mindset about humor and why we use it…then perhaps people will use it in more productive ways.”

Judith Baxter.  You can read more about Judith’s work and some of her other findings on the way women use language at the Broadly Speaking blog at The Broad Experience.com. Ever heard of double-voice discourse? You’ll probably recognize it when you read about it. It turns out women use this second-guessing speech tactic four times as much as men.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. You’ll find a few show notes under this episode at The Broad Experience dot com. Feel free to comment there and on the show’s Facebook page.

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I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.