Women and men suffer equal exposure to business jargon
According to a recent survey of business professionals, for 95% of women and 93% of men business buzzwords are a fact of daily life. Gender doesn’t impact the frequency with which businesspeople have to deal with bad jargon. More than 1 in 4 women and men alike say they hear business buzzwords way too much in their typical workday.
Though men were slightly more likely to answer at the extremes–”Almost never” or “way too much!”–than women, it’s clearly a plague upon both houses.
The top 18 buzzwords for men vs. women in the workplace
Here are the top 18 worst examples of corporate-speak, according to men and women. They agree that “synergy” deserves to be crowned the most annoying of all. But the other business jargon men hate the most differs from what women hate the most.
If you’d like to see the top 18 business buzzwords regardless of gender, see the comprehensive list of the top buzzwords and what they mean here. “Think outside the box” vs. “take it offline”Men and women both hate both of these phrases. But it’s interesting that women are more annoyed by being told to “take it offline,” while men are more annoyed by being told to “think outside the box.” These fill the second place spots for worst business buzzwords for women and men, respectively. “Take it offline” aims to shut down a conversation, and suggests the point being raised isn’t relevant, or isn’t worth the speaker’s time right now. “Think outside the box,” on the other hand, suggests a need to get more creative, and keep the ideas flowing–with the implication that the ideas so far have been subpar.These cliches may get under women’s and men’s skin more because they play to gender stereotypes and personality feedback that are, well, annoying. Women are tired of being shushed, or told they’re too aggressive. And for the record, so are men. ”Take it offline” ranked in the top ten for men, too. Men don’t like to be told they’re not being ambitious enough, which is perhaps why “think outside the box” strikes a more severe cord. Nor do women for that matter. Women ranked “think outside the box” in their top five as well.Why do women hate “Wheelhouse” and “Swimlane”?These two words appeared on the list of worst business buzzwords for women, but not for men. “Swimlane” refers to designated job responsibilities, and “wheelhouse” refers to skills competency. Both terms are typically used in the negative, to point out where someone is not qualified for a project or not doing their job appropriately. Women’s performance may be under more scrutiny than men’s is overall, making these metaphorical jabs especially irritating. For example, in the tech industry, men are 3x as likely to think that difference in pay (i.e. the gender wage gap, wherein women are paid less on average than men) is based on difference in job performance. Men hate misused technical terms, and overly technical terms when used without reasonMen are annoyed by four out of the 18 worst examples of business jargon because they aren’t being used properly. The complaints we got about “cloud,” “big data,” “agile,” and “IoT” all took issue with people using the terms without understanding their actual technical definition. As these words become pervasive, they lose their specific meaning and spread confusion. Then there’s “leverage” (number ten for men), It’s annoying because it doesn’t need to be so complicated. Why should a pseudo-technical term stand in for a simple word: “use”? Women’s bias against acronymsWomen are somewhat less concerned with policing technicalities. Still, they take issue with abbreviations and acronyms, which have a similar effect. A concept gets turned it into a longer, more official “technical” phrase, and then reduced to a set of (usually three) letters. For example, KPI stands for “Key Performance Indicator,” which is basically a fancy way to say “goal,” or number we’re measuring to see if you’re on track. Similarly, ROI stands for “Return on Investment,” which usually means the “benefit,” value, or result. These permutations obscure the meaning. It can feel just plain unnecessary!Getting (less) physicalWith the #metoo movement and more attention being given to gender power dynamics and appropriate physical boundaries in 2019, it’s not all that shocking that “touch base” and “reach out” made this list. What’s interesting is that men, not women, are more bothered by these buzzwords. Everyone hates being told the “right” way to do thingsFive of the worst offenders for women were words that prescribe a way of being, or an imperative, and suggest a departure from the status quo: “best practice,” “game-changer,” “disruptor,” “buy-in,” and “right.” They give a sense that the speaker knows best, and that the person being spoken to wasn’t already on it, or capable of doing it on their own. For men, the buzzword on this theme that made the list was “moving forward / going forward.” It suggests something wasn’t being done the right way up until now. But, with the speaker’s grace and guidance, from now on it should be done the right way. All of these terms can feel a bit paternalistic, no matter who they’re coming from or who they’re addressed to. Sense & sensibility for allRegardless of gender, no one likes to be talked down to, ignored, or overloaded with extra work. That’s why turns of phrase like “deep dive,” “at the end of the day,” “low-hanging fruit,” and “bandwidth” made both lists. On an emotional level, these utterances just don’t sit right.Everyone also hates added pressure without clear goals. Whether they’re being asked to “move the needle” or to “take it to the next level,” hyperbole never helped anyone perform better–man or woman. Ultimately, communication at work is a gender-blind issueSure, men and women may tend to communicate differently. But this isn’t fixed across cultures, so generalizing too much is futile. Here’s the ultimate list of the 119 most-hated business buzzwords for modern professionals of any gender. The bottom line is that respectful, productive communication is important for every person in a business, irrespective of their gender. (Incidentally, “bottom line” is another hated business buzzword–oops!) Plus, language changes faster than you might think. Changes to business communication norms will only accelerate as millennials continue to rise within the workforce, and gen Z begins to enter the arena in earnest. And we all know gen Z already has a reputation for breaking stereotypes about gender identity.It’s fun, and sometimes surprising, to reflect on trends in how we speak. But it can also help us be mindful about how our jargon affects others. So I’ll leave you with this question: when is it worth it to use the in-group language of business, and when might it be better to stick with simpler, clearer words?
|Worst Business Buzzword||Men||Women|
|2||Think outside the box||Take it offline|
|4||Circle back||Think outside the box|
|5||At the end of the day||Low-hanging fruit|
|6||Low-hanging fruit||Move the needle|
|7||Take it offline||Best practice|
|8||Big Data||At the end of the day|
|11||IoT (“Internet of things”)||Wheelhouse|
|15||Moving forward / going forward||Right|
|16||Touch base||Game changer|
|17||Next level, up-level, and level up||Swimlane|
|18||Reach out||Abbreviations & acronyms (KPI, ROI, etc.)|