Sorry to ask, but do you think your emails might be just a bit, um, disempowered? That's a sentence that wouldn't get past Just Not Sorry, a new plug-in for Gmail which highlights every single apology, hesitating "maybe" or circumlocutory "actually" sent from your outbox. Acting like a spellcheck for sorries, the app was designed to help women who are prone to using "soft" language at work and thereby sending emails which are about as effective as putting on a baby voice when asking for a pay rise.
Tami Reiss, the CEO of technology company Cyrus Innovations was inspired to create Just Not Sorry after watching an Amy Schumer sketch about a panel of female scientists who can't stop saying sorry until one of them apologises herself to death. "This idea of successful, entrepreneurial women who don't even realise how often they're saying sorry and undermining their own ideas really struck a chord with me," she tells me by phone from her office in New York. "I just wanted to create a simple tool to help me and my friends. I've been completely overwhelmed by all the attention."
The app – which has so far been downloaded 44,000 times in 171 countries – is the latest effort in a movement to encourage women to make their voices heard in the boardroom. Last year, Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg co-authored a piece for The New York Times on why "women stay quiet at work". She also backed the Ban Bossy campaign to stop the derogatory term being used for decisive women. In October, Jennifer Lawrence wrote an essay entitled "Why Do These Dudes Make More Than Me?" where she highlighted her own inability to negotiate more money for herself for fear of seeming "difficult" or "spoiled". Next, a Washington Post article, which reimagined famous quotes as if a woman had said them in a meeting, went viral – such as "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" became "I have to say – I'm sorry – I have to say this. I don't think we should be as scared of non-fear things as maybe we are? If that makes sense? Sorry, I feel like I'm rambling." Forget fat, apologising is a feminist issue.
I'm British, a woman and hate confrontation, so for me saying sorry isn't so much subordination as punctuation. I'll apologise if someone bumps into me, a waiter brings me the wrong food or just to start a sentence when I want to make sure people are listening. Just one day after downloading Just Not Sorry to my emails I counted 17 "sorry"s, 10 "actually"s and countless "I think"s. When you hover over the highlighted trigger words, boxes pop up to explain why that type of language might be weakening your point. For example, every time I typed a simple "just" I got a message informing me that "'Just' demeans what you have to say. 'Just' shrinks your power. It's time to say goodbye to the 'Just's". But most of the time I didn't delete a single one. I appreciate the seeming nonchalance of a "just", the lack of definition in a "maybe" and hopefully not just because I'm a slave to the patriarchy.
The backlash against Just Not Sorry has already begun, with many women pointing out that an app such as this just (there we go again) blames women for the way they talk and perpetuates the stereotype that we're all airheads who speak like Cher from Clueless.
"I feel bad right now," says Reiss when I ask her about the criticism she's received (although she's noticeably not sorry). "Of course women's language shouldn't be policed or changed, and if you want to use these words then you should. But we've been surprised by how many men are loving the app. And it doesn't auto-correct these terms it just highlights them, which means it makes you aware of phrases which may not sound as confident and decisive as you want them to be."
Personally, I'm enjoying using Just Not Sorry. Anything that makes us more aware of the language we use and the effect it has can only be a good thing "in my opinion" (whoops). Now I just need an app that flags up the kisses I inadvertently put at the end of an email to my accountant. Especially now I can't write to him and say sorry.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies