It’s no laughing matter
By Herb Drill
Your husband is too immersed in the Jaguars game to notice your new perfume, the kids are playing video games and are in another world, the dog is barking to go out and no one opens the door to the backyard, and to top it off your information technology job at a major corporation is giving you hot flashes long before your time.
We leave the first few fixes up to you, but the last item might be repaired by laughing and we’re serious.
From my friend Beth at the Newswise© agency, I learned that in Fayetteville, Ark., while information technology doesn’t seem funny, three University of Arkansas researchers noticed a lot of laughter when they sat down with about 40 women in IT careers. They found women use laughter to create a sense of solidarity with their female coworkers, exert superiority, and to deal with incongruities in their work environment.
We’re all familiar with “incongruities” - but we call it “bull….”
After the meeting, associate professors Myria Allen, Margaret Reid, and Cynthia Riemenschneider published their study, “The Role of Laughter When Discussing Workplace Barriers: Women in Information Technology Jobs.” The team gathered 39 women in IT positions at a large company and put them into six focus groups; there, the women discussed their professional experiences, barriers they faced, and reasons women leave IT jobs. Some of the obstacles the women discussed were discrimination, promotion obstacles, being overlooked by clients, and problems juggling career and family.
The researchers recorded and transcribed the discussions. When they listened to the recordings, they noticed a pattern in group laughter and wondered what triggered the guffaws.
It seems “women laugh to facilitate interaction, keep conversation going, keep it light and lively,” Allen said. “If these were the only reasons, the laughter would’ve been throughout the transcript - but it wasn’t.”
It’s apparent very little research has been done on why people laugh, but the researchers gathered what they could and sought to answer two
questions: why do women laugh at certain things, and what function does laughter serve for women when they gather and talk about workplace problems?
The researchers found women laugh for several reasons regarding careers, sometimes for a sense of solidarity, other times to minimize the force of discussing taboo subjects. Sometimes women laugh because “what else can we do when we compare actual workplace conditions to our expectations for what is fair or ideally expected in a professional setting?” Allen said.
Through the study of women in IT, the three researchers hope to make employers aware of barriers specific to women and possible remedies.
“Hopefully, this will feed back continually into companies and organizations, so they can learn from these insights and be more sensitive to women’s issues, and maybe make changes,” Reid said.