A senior woman lawyer at my office often uses four-letter words. She is getting “called out” on this. I find it odd since I work with men who curse all the time.
Do you think swearing is a sign of power, and that women should use the F-word more often? Or is there a double standard about this?I am confused.
So glad you asked—I love the topic. Personally, I find cursing rather cathartic, especially if I'm having a bad day. Much cheaper and faster than therapy. And there's nothing like dropping an expletive or two to let people know exactly where you stand.
Sorry to say, though, research shows that there's a price to be paid for swearing on the job. In a survey by CareerBuilder of over 2,000 hiring managers and 3,800 workers in a wide sector of industries, this is the finding:
Employees who make frequent contributions to the swear jar may lose more than loose change; they may lose out on a promotion. Sixty-four percent of employers said that they'd think less of an employee who repeatedly uses curse words, and 57 percent said they'd be less likely to promote someone who swears in the office.
The employers in the survey felt that swearing employees (male and female) were lacking in professionalism, judgment, maturity, and the like. That's the official line about cursing—which probably fits with your mom's warnings on the subject.
Of course, you probably know that mom's advice doesn't always work when you're trying to get ahead in the legal profession—particularly if you are female. So can/should women lawyers curse at the office? For the answer, I called Drinker Biddle partner Mercedes Meyer, who's pretty outspoken on a range of issues.
"I do it all the time. It’s an expression of passion that’s coming out of me," says Meyer (at left) about deploying expletives. "I’m loud and comical. . . . I also get a lot of respect, and people do listen to me. If you don’t know me, you might think I’m crude."
In a presentation on management, Meyer brought in manure to make a point. "I said, 'This is pile of shit.' I had people’s attention immediately," says Meyer. "You can use it for dramatic effect or humor."
But Meyer also admits that she's sometimes criticized for her tactics—especially by other women. "I've had women who have said to me, 'It’s sad that you have to curse to make a point,' and 'You should clean up your language.' " She adds, "You need to be aware when it's not going to go over well."
She warns that women have to be mindful of the audience. She says she wouldn't curse at business functions in Japan, nor in certain parts of the United States: "I used to go to Texas, and it’s a tighter line there. Women have to have perfect hair and makeup."
Still, Meyer believes that sprinkling her language with lots of salt has served her well, allowing her to stand out in a crowd. But what works for her might not work for other women, unless using four-letter words comes naturally, she says. "I think you have to be true to yourself. If it's part of your personality to curse, and it's part of your brand, it's fine." She adds, "I like being the wacky patent chick. "
So here's my takeaway: If four-letter words just roll off your tongue, go for it. And if people still have problems with your style, you can tell them where to stick it.
Related post: She Bites.
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