Why Emojis Belong in Emails (!!!)

It would be a better workplace for everyone if we could just be honest about what we know and don’t know

I saw a viral video on TikTok this week from @vivsmee captioned “updating my email style to match my male colleagues.” You can watch it here.

In the video, a young woman in the corporate world is revising a warm and collegial email she has written to a male colleague named Kevin. She self-consciously replaces her exclamation points with commas and deletes phrases indicating uncertainty such as “I think.” She is clearly uncomfortable with the resultingly dry email but hits “send” anyway. As a staunch supporter of exclamation points in work emails myself, I completely related to the video. My instinct in writing emails is always to be friendly, positive, and nice. I am also a young woman in the workplace and don’t see anything wrong with expressing my naturally bubbly personality through email. Sometimes I’ll even throw in a smiley face :)

Over and over again, I’ve been told to tone down these “feminine” instincts that make me look “weak.” If I really want to get ahead in my career, they say, it’s time to start acting like the men. So far, it’s worked. I channel the most hyper-confident and aggressive version of myself. I fake it until I make it. I was reminded that this is my best path forward when a diligent, sharp female friend of mine in the cutthroat world of finance was told she asks for too much reassurance of her work from superiors on the team. She’s an analyst, the lowest-ranking position on the team. When she gets assigned work, she drafts materials independently and then seeks to ensure they meet her boss’s expectations before she shares them with the client. One would think that running her work product by her senior team members would be beneficial and help prevent any potential miscommunications. But in her case, her vigilance and attempt to empathize with her boss’s needs was leveled against her as evidence of her “lack of confidence”.

You’ve probably heard the oft-cited statistic that men apply for jobs when they meet 60% of the qualifications whereas women only apply when they meet 100% of them. I am not questioning this premise — anecdotally speaking, I buy that it’s true. But I do think we need to question the antidotes that women have been told will help them combat this problem. Instead of expecting women to push themselves to apply for jobs they are not fully qualified for, shouldn’t everyone just stop bullshitting and overstating their qualifications? I think it would be a better workplace for everyone if we could just be honest about what we know and don’t know. Workers would be more efficient, expectations would be better aligned, and employers wouldn’t suggest you need a PhD for an entry-level role in their job descriptions, knowing full well that arrogant undergraduates will apply anyway. Seriously, who are we kidding with this collective delusion?

While it will not be easy to radically transform the competitive, Ayn Rand-ian workplace into an honest and supportive environment, I think writing nicer emails is a great start. We should strive to treat each other with dignity, respect and kindness, especially when so many are suffering right now. The New Yorker writes of work emails, “all kinds of nuances are lost, especially sarcasm, which leads to frustrating misunderstandings and confused exchanges.” We should actively try to combat these misunderstandings, particularly now that remote work is the new norm in many industries. That means that instead of telling women to delete their exclamation points and “lean in,” managers and mentors should be mindful of their colleagues’ humanity and stop expecting a cold, collected facade of perfection from their employees without questioning what underpins it.

For more thoughts on work and careers, follow me here on Medium and on TikTok and Instagram @neets_a_job. I also offer one-on-one career consulting at https://anitaramaswamy.com/career.

Journalist, career coach, & recovering investment banker. Writing about work, business, politics and social change. anitaramaswamy.com

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