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Women, Swearing, and Workplace Dynamics

Recently, Carol Bartz was fired as CEO of Yahoo! Her stewardship of the internet company was questionable, and during her tenure the company lost market share, failed to establish important strategic alliances, and lost the confidence of investors. But that’s not what everyone is talking about. What they’re talking about is her potty mouth. Some have characterized the discussion to be about her “crude honesty,” but what I think they really can’t get their hands around is a female executive who swears like a sailor. The Wall Street Journal has compiled a list of some of her “best quotes.” I personally love it and think it’s hysterical, keeping in mind that Carol Bartz is inconsequential to me, my career or my personal life. But it makes you wonder if a newspaper like the Wall Street Journal would even consider publishing such a list of quotes from a male CEO. Is there a double standard here? In the interest of full disclosure, I had a pretty tart tongue in my last job. I had to change my vocabulary 100% when I left the bloodsport of politics for my new, much more genteel employer (and industry). At home, you’d have to drop a 10-ton hammer on my foot to hear me swear. I give my mother a hard time for using the words “stupid” and “hate” around my kids. But at work, among adults, it’s different. At work, I can say “I’m not sure I agree with your approach,” and that’s polite and all, but there’s something more brutally honest and at the same time “intimate” about cursing — it’s like I’m saying, “I trust you enough, and feel comfortable enough with you to tell you how f-ing terrible I think your idea is.” But can women do this as freely as men? In most places, I don’t think so. But as for me, set me up with a bunch of women with a penchant for potty mouth, and I’ll bet we get a s*@!load accomplished.

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