What the hell: Workplace language should be universal across genders

On numerous instances in my personal and professional life, men have apologized for using profane language in front of me.

This has happened often, both with my peers and superiors, which leads me to believe the apologies stem from gender differences rather than professional relationship.

As a woman, these apologies make me uncomfortable; as an aspiring professional, these apologies concern me.

In these instances, I’ve made it a habit to inquire why the person feels an apology is required. Responses include “I’m trying to be respectful”; “it’s unprofessional”; “it’s inappropriate”; and, notably, one person apologized because he felt “embarrassed for me to be around that type of language.”

Personally, swear words don’t offend me, and I usually don’t feel an apology is warranted. I do recognize and appreciate the respect I’m being offered through the apology. Beyond that, however, all these apologies do is build barriers between men and women in the workplace.

If my co-workers feel like they need to apologize to me for the way they speak, there’s a good chance they are watching what they say and won’t be as open with their female co-workers as they will with their other (usually male) co-workers.

While this is, of course, not a universal rule, there’s something to be said for building relationships off of shared language. Business Insider reported that using profanity in the workplace increases camaraderie, relatability and relationship building. If women are automatically excluded from that dialogue based on their gender, there’s a problem.

Beyond the merit of making language equal, apologies are awkward for both parties involved. Personally, I usually feel as if I’ve intruded on something I shouldn’t have, which is often not the case. Accepting the fact that using profane language is often just something people do, regardless of their gender, will negate this awkwardness and make communication easier.

CNBC reported that historically, swearing has implied masculinity and is often utilized by those in positions of power. The age-old desire of men to avoid swearing in front of women is well-documented. In Michigan, a law making it a misdemeanor to cuss in front of women and children was just overturned in 2002.

However, women in the workplace are an increasing population. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 57.2 percent of working age women were in the workforce in 2013; this number is expected to rise by 5.4 percent by 2022.

As more women enter the workforce and seek leadership positions, it’s more important than ever that both genders are on equal playing fields. Men and women shouldn’t feel the need to change their verbal behavior, simply based on the merit of who is listening.

In addition, enabling men and women to create bonds in the workplace is important. Bonding experiences can happen over beers after work or sports discussions, which women are sometimes excluded from. The social aspect of work is important, and eliminating barriers such as language differences are important to allowing relationships to build in general.

I’m not advocating for profanity in the workplace – in many or even most cases, using curse words is unprofessional and inappropriate. However, if such language is going to be used, it should be universal. There’s no need for apologies when women can, and often will, swear with the best of them.

This entry was posted on Monday, September 22nd, 2014 and is filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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