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Linguist sees gender gap in reactions to managers’ humor

Posted Jan 23, 2013 7:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A linguistics expert who spent time observing management interactions at seven U.K. companies found the women she observed typically failed to get laughs when they told jokes.

The study by Aston University professor Judith Baxter found that more than 80 percent of quips by senior female figures were met with silence, while 90 percent of jokes by men resulted in a positive response, including laughter. The Telegraph, the Guardian and the Financial Times (reg. req.) wrote about the study last year; the American Lawyer’s Careerist column notes the findings.

Baxter also found that when women did tell a joke, their humor tended to be self-deprecating. Male managers, on the other hand, used humor to display leadership of a team. And male subordinates used humor to show male bosses that they are on the same wavelength.

“Why should we care about all this?” the Careerist asks. “Well, it points out two salient facts: Women are still having a hell of a time earning points for being ‘likable’ and ‘relatable.’ Plus, it shows that people don't consider women important enough to laugh at their jokes.”

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