Slack is helping women speak up in the workplace, experts claim

The internal messaging system is encouraging women to be more assertive

Olivia Petter
Thursday 14 December 2017 11:20

Office chat software used by companies around the world has been credited for encouraging women to speak up at work.

Slack's informal nature is thought to be leading to more assertive conversations between women, who would normally be conscious of coming across as "pushy".

The trend is particularly noticeable at ad agencies, reports Digiday, where women are expressing themselves more freely on internal messaging systems than they would in real life.

Kerry McGowan, managing director at The HR Specialists, told The Independent that this could be because, unlike emails sent from a work account, Slack messages feels like a more informal and safe space.

She added that this could be especially prevalent in smaller businesses, where women may feel more conscious that their conversations are being overheard and their emails are being monitored.

This rings true for Jen Usdan McBride, head of digital and innovation at JWT, who told Digiday that she often sends emails and goes back to check that her language wasn’t too brash.

It’s been scientifically-proven that men and women use language differently.

One 2016 study examined the words people used on Facebook and revealed that men favoured declarative sentences (featuring words like “always” and “obviously”) whereas women use more ambivalent terms such as “maybe” and “seems”.

However, the study concluded that women were no less assertive than men but that they were simply warmer in their delivery.

On Slack, McBride explained that she feels less inhibited because using the tool feels like texting, where people care less about what they say due to the conversation typically being faster-paced. This, she added, leads her to use more declarative terminology on the platform.

Slack also offers users an array of light-hearted emojis and GIFs, which may also encourage uplifting and autonomous communication between colleagues.

Plus, there are various group all-female Slack channels, such as #WomenInSales, Women in Product and Huge’s Women’s Group Slack, where nearly 200 women share their thoughts on all things from current affairs to feminist literature.

However, given that conversations on the channel are unregulated, Slack may also encourage employees to engage in inappropriate conversations that they otherwise would not on email or in person.

McGowan explained that this can be concerning from a human resources perspective because a proficient word recognition software may not be in place to flag up sexist or racist remarks that would typically be enrolled in an email system.

Indeed, Quartz recently published an article entitled “your company’s Slack is probably sexist” after they studied the Slack conversations between men and women at online newsrooms and found that many reflected clichéd gender dynamics that could actually be perceived as sexist.

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