Post by Jane K. Stimmler, contributing Women on Business writer
There’s been a great deal of buzz lately about Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz, who was recently fired. Her apparent fondness for “salty language,” as it has been described, has been a big part of the conversation. The premise put forward is that her profane language is being called out because she’s a woman and her behavior is unexpected, therefore it’s more noticeable. Implicit in the articles I’ve read is the notion that it’s wrong to make Bartz’ blunt language an issue because she’s a woman. But really, isn’t the more important issue that prolific swearing in the workplace is just offensive and unnecessary no matter what the gender of the leader?
Deborah Tannen, author of the book “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation,” said “The attention devoted to Bartz’s candor, profane or otherwise, reflects the double-bind faced by women in the business world, especially those in high positions. If women talk in ways expected of them or project a feminine demeanor, it’s seen as weak. But if they talk in ways associated with men or bosses, then they’re seen as too aggressive. Whatever they do violates one or the other expectation, either you’re not talking as you should as a woman or as boss.”
In principle, I agree with Ms. Tannen, yet I think she misses the point. Women certainly have a lot of barriers to overcome in workplace communication, and in many cases they are walking a fine line in trying to develop the right tone, especially in historically male workplace cultures. We have very different communication styles from men and are frequently misunderstood and maligned. But since when is swearing an appropriate way of communicating in a work environment?
No matter what the specific standards of a workplace, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where communication routinely includes profanity. Work is not the place to vent, offend others or display anger. In fact, just the opposite. Communication should be strategic, well thought out and mindful of the audience.
I can only think that Carol Bartz must have had skills and strengths that Yahoo needed, and that the company accepted her and overlooked her communication failings as part of the territory – at least until recently.
What do you think? Please share!