By Marinella Janse, Sponsorship Director at WMN
If you, like myself, have found yourself procrasti-scrolling through TikTok instead of studying these past few weeks, you’ve probably come across the viral “Email like a man” TikTok trend.
For those of you who haven’t, it’s essentially a trend where women will edit an email, making it more direct, self-assured, and emotionless – in other words more “like a man”. See here for an example (and check out my personal favourite).
Before I go any further, there is a caveat to keep in mind. Obviously not all men and not all women think, speak, and act the same way. This is clearly a generalization, but one that is nonetheless grounded in lived experiences.
The first time I saw the trend, I couldn’t help but relate to it. I recognized myself in the women editing their emails and I recognized the final versions, having been on the receiving end of hundreds of them.
That being said, I think this strategy can extend far beyond just emails. It can be applied to all forms of communication, written, verbal, non-verbal, in person and virtual.
I have read differing opinions on whether emailing/working “like a man” is a productive approach, especially considering that women are supposed to be recruited for their differences. Although I understand the argument that questions why women bear the burden of changing to workplace norms, I don’t think we can wait around hoping the world will adapt to us. This 2020 McKinsey article shows that women are not being given equal space, respect, and opportunity, so I don’t think we have much of an alternative.
Regardless of whether we see it as “women needing to be more like their male colleagues” or simply as people generally needing to communicate in a more clear and concise manner, I think there is something to learn from the trend.
So, if you are also the type of person to re-read your emails over and over, over-thinking the ratio of exclamation marks to periods, here are a few tricks that may help you:
1. Remove any “Sorry”, “I think”, “Just”, and “Does that make sense?” (Unless absolutely necessary).
2. It’s okay to say “No”.
A Harvard Kennedy School study showed that “in mixed-sex environments when an undesirable task is presented, women volunteer twice as often as men”. If you don’t have capacity or if you’ve done your fair share of work that falls outside your formal job responsibilities, don’t feel guilty saying no or recommending someone who would be more appropriate for the task.
3. Don’t shy away from leadership roles.
You’ve probably heard the famous Hewlett Packard saying “Men apply for a job when they meet 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them”. If you’re debating taking on a new role, chances are you’re more than capable and should throw your hat in the ring.
This year, before this TikTok trend appeared, I decided to apply this strategy. I was put in charge of an 8-month project for an extra-curricular program at Telfer and gained enough confidence to apply this “male” communication style. My main counterpart for this project was a middle-aged man. In meetings, I wouldn’t shy away from challenging his ideas. I politely cut him off if he had been speaking for over 10 minutes, I suggested and defended my own, I didn’t force myself to laugh at any strange jokes in order to make him or others feel comfortable, I would take the lead at our meetings and ensure we followed my agenda, etc. I also referred back to this table a few times when writing emails!
Source: @danidonovan on Instagram
The outcome? I don’t think I ever felt so much respect from a male professional in my 23 years of life. By respect, I don’t mean compliments and courtesy; rather, I mean true admiration, trust, and esteem. He even said things to me like “You’ve got confidence”, “You’re able to take things on”, and “I’ll do what you ask. You’re scary”. I remember talking to my friend about it at the gym and saying, “It’s crazy. I have never felt so rude and yet have never been met with so much respect.” It’s almost as if, when you talk to them “like a man” they start to treat you “like a man”.
As a parting thought, this has opened my eyes to how challenging it must be for people who fall into more than one marginalized group. Take, for example, a woman of colour. Not only does she suffer the consequences of needing to adapt to the “male” norms of work and communication but is also often forced to adapt to Caucasian norms.
If you’re reading this, hopefully this can be an opportunity for us to re-evaluate how we are imposing our patterns of behaviour on others, particularly in academic or professional settings, and how rather than expecting the minority to fit into our norms, we can learn from and adopt some of their ways of thinking and behaving.