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What Slack does for women

Years ago, for a story and in an effort to be more successful, I read some “how to be a woman at work” books. Since women face backlash for acting assertively in the workplace, these books mainly advise pretending to be nicer while subtly trying to get what you want. (Since this was the innocent spring of the pre-Trump era, “whatever you want” was usually presented as a promotion.)

“Wherever possible, women should replace ‘we’ with ‘I,'” writes Sheryl Sandberg: Lean in, the sacred script of this genre. “A woman’s request will be better received if she claims, ‘We’ve had a great year,’ as opposed to ‘I’ve had a great year’.” Even better if she can do that while smiling like a girlboss rodeo clown. The Girl’s Guide to Being a Boss (Without Being a Bitch) advises said girl: “Don’t let self-doubt creep into your tone.” Former Vice President of CNN, Gail Evans, in Play like a man, win like a woman, suggests that women try to sit more like men, admitting, “It took me years to figure out how to occupy my desk chair.” years! Worry about sitting!

Now I feel like I can throw all these books in the trash because the only things that matter to my work success are the sentences I type in Google Docs and the sentences I type in Slack. I don’t have to smile, I don’t have to worry about my voice and nobody cares about my position.

Of course, I still want my colleagues to like me, so I still bend to gender norms. I just say what needs to be said in Slack, throw in an exclamation point and a fun emoji, and call it a day. It’s much easier to perform your sex with a dancing penguin than with “current poseor whatever. And best of all, Slack de double bond, which women dislike for being either too assertive or too nurturing. No one finds the happy cowboy (🤠) pushy. No one would damn the joy cat (😹) with the faint praise of being”nice enough.” All this Slacking seems to be working, because for the first time, the performance review we had in the midst of the Slack-heavy pandemic called me “friendly.”

In short, I love Slack! It’s a great tool for women who just want to get through the workday without worrying too much about how to ‘get off’. A fellow female reporter once remorsefully told me that if a woman acted as “quirky” as all the prominent “quirky” men in the media, she would be fired on the spot for being crazy. Now there’s no danger of that happening because we can all keep our quirks to ourselves while we’re saying ‘Interesting idea! ”

I’ve guided my love of Slack through several female experts I know, and they said that while there are few studies on gender and Slack, there might be something going on here. “Women are expected to smile all the time, and men are not. It’s exhausting,” said Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and the author of You just don’t understand. But “it’s liberating when you don’t have to worry about your makeup and your hair and whether your head is tilted in a feminine way.”

Because people tend to prefer managers with deeper voices, “women often tell me that if they ask for career advice, they’re advised to lower the pitch of their voice,” says Kim Elsesser, a psychologist who has studied gender dynamics at work. With Slack, “you don’t have to think about that at all.”

Women are often punished for not behaving kindly and communally. But nobody on the internet knows you’re a bitch. “One thing women should do is not be as aggressive as men,” Elsesser told me. “So if you can use the same aggressive requests or whatever, and put a little smiley face next to them, and then suddenly they don’t seem so aggressive.”

Still, Elsesser thinks I like Slacking not because I’m a woman, but because I’m the kind of person who likes to write things down. “I mean, that’s what you do, right, you’re a writer?” she said. “So is it crazy that your favorite means of communication should be written?”

As any woman who has used Twitter.com can tell you, women are not always welcome in digital spaces. When the public is large and unregulated, women can feel cut off, harassed or ignored, says Susan Herring, a professor at Indiana University who studies gender and digital communication. But in situations where a teacher or boss reads what people are saying, such as a class discussion group or a Slack channel in the workplace, people are more likely to be polite.

Of course, some women and members of marginalized groups have encountered setbacks from working only virtually. With so many people still working remotely, some women and people of color find themselves getting more “housework” in the workplace — setting up meetings, taking notes — and less prestigious assignments, says Joan Williams, a gender and law expert at UC Hastings. “You can no longer hear the plum commands being handed out in the hall and try to insinuate yourself to be part of the action,” she told me. That’s on top of all factual housework and care that mothers have to do as childcare options have disappeared during the pandemic. And, Tannen notes, many women who… do not use emojis and exclamation marks in digital communication are still mistakenly seen as bitchy.

However, certain benefits of Slack apply to people of all genders. Because of the asynchronous aspect, I find it an excellent tool for anger management. Working can be frustrating at times, but part of what you get paid for isn’t taking your frustrations out on your coworkers. (They’re also at work.) The first thing that comes to mind when I’m frustrated is rarely what I want my colleagues to hear. The second through tenth things usually aren’t either. The eleventh thing—the thing for which I’ve scraped together all the little dough scraps of my generosity into a pretty little cookie—is the one that fits Slack.

To save time to bake my generosity cookie, I find it much easier to avoid Slacking for a few minutes than not to talk for a few minutes. (It’s also much more obvious when you’re suppressing your anger in person than when you’re typing and deleting draft Slack messages. I usually do this in an offline text file to avoid the ominous “Olga is typing.”) But the effect is that by writing “Sure!” in Slack while saying “What the fuck?” I secretly spare both my colleagues and myself some grief. I make everyone’s day a little better. I’m getting some time to figure out if this is something I want to make a big deal out of — or “spend institutional capital,” in girls’ parlance — or just push it aside. If a blogger has a meltdown and isn’t slacking about it, did it even happen?

Yes, Slack conversations are more scripted, but I don’t think these scripts are particularly unfair because the scripts we all follow at work are unfair anyway. Do you really care what that person’s weekend was like? Is someone telling you that they will get you that PowerPoint really “great” soon? Scripts save time and, if followed better, can honestly save you too a few people of committing flammable office faux pas. If we are going to follow scripts, I would prefer that they are at least copyable.

Some people say they don’t like Slack, but I think these people actually say they like the way other people limp. Unpleasant people abound, and some people are digitally obnoxious, just as some people are personally obnoxious. For me, getting succinct edits in Google Docs is better than having some old-fashioned editor sit me down, look at my draft, look me in the eye, and soberly say, “Words matter.”

I’m not suggesting that anyone substitute face-to-face conversations with Slack if they don’t want to. I understand that some people live for the few minutes of chatter that happens after everyone has gathered in the conference room, but before they let the presentation work: These chairs are so comfortable. Oooh, where’s that bagel from? I would never think of taking this away. My view of Slack is similar to my view of the office: it should be there if you like it, and avoidable if you don’t. I’m just saying that in the frantic search for silver linings for This Whole Thing, I found mine. Maybe, girl, it’s yours too.