XO Nation – The Sisterhood of Women in the Workplace
Would Hillary Clinton be more likeable if she signed her emails XO? The answer is probably yes…
11 years after the TV show Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants premiered; we now have the sisterhood of the XO. What started with Arianna Huffington and Lena Dunham signing their emails “xo” has evolved into a hashtag #xoxo to show support in the social sphere. So what exactly is this XO Nation, a term that I coined, and how can you read the signs to know if you’re hugging and kissing the right colleagues?
Aside from being the first two moves of any Tic-Tac-Toe game, XO is a subtle, but quickly building sisterhood of women in the workplace, many corporate, who are bonding through the use of “XO” at the end of messages. When I first received an XO signed email from a woman, whom I had met briefly at a professional event, I was shocked that she used the XO given we had shaken hands and parted ways. What did this mean? I took it as a sign of trust and respect. She liked what I had to say, how I looked, and where I was heading professionally. She wanted me to know, “You can count on me X number of times at any O’clock.”
Okay, there’s a slight chance I read too much into it and she didn’t mean to be THAT accessible. XO is a friendly greeting that communicates affection and warmth. Think about the people who use it… Diane Sawyer is immensely likeable. My inbox is filled with XO signatures from women who work at Merryll Lynch, Bain and Co., Hearst, Conde Nast, UBS, doctors and lawyers. Joanna Goddard’s “Cup of Joe” blog is a buzzing pot of joy in an otherwise dark and treacherous internet world of cat memes. Even British feminist Caitlin Moran, author of “How to Be a Woman”, has come out in favor of the signature, boldly stating “I refuse to feel any shame for this widespread woman-trait.” And come on, don’t the Brits make everything seem more regal and socially acceptable? These are the folks that invented terms like “cheeky” “frock” and “shag” after all. In a world where “Sincerely” has been overused to the point that it no longer seems sincere, and where “Best” has become bland, XO is a fun, short way to show some personality and build a “XO” alliance.
While the number of women in the American workforce makes a steady, upward progression, the gender pay gap is in a holding pattern. Today women represent nearly 50% of the workforce but on average they earn 79% of what men earn for similar jobs. Now more than ever, women are coming together to change that.
At a time when Hillary has been described as ‘cold’ and ‘calculating’ my suggestion as an office culture consultant would be for her to adopt a more fun and friendly signature. Had even one of her leaked emails been signed XO to a staff member, I think she would have been viewed in a more positive, down to earth light.
XO is not a signature meant for everyone with whom you interact (so no I wasn’t flirting with you, uncle Lenny. Get over yourself). For me, I use it sparingly if I am the one who initiates the exchange. I think twice when I respond to a woman who sends that to me initially. Is she a close friend? Is she someone I plan on working with long term? How old is she? Will she respect me tomorrow after I send it back? And for men, my equivalent signature is X, unless they are European, in which case two XXs for good measure. (If you chuckle at this joke I will plant a big X on your cheek next time I see you.)
However, apparently men are jumping on the XO bandwagon. In the twitsphere, 11% of women XO in tweets, but so do 2.5% of men. Maybe we are finally entering the age of equality. Where men adopt “womanly” traits like XO, afternoon cosmos, and the happy cry, and where women can rise above the glass ceiling and inhabit that corner office. But hey, we’re not picky. It doesn’t HAVE to be a corner office. We’d settle for oval. Instead of teaching women how to “Lean In” and fit in in corporate environments, I’ll get hired to teach male empowerment workshops, where we can practice office empathy.
The reality is the XO sisterhood is forming and XO has become our call to arms. The after dinner drink with the boys has now been replaced with an XO and brunch for us women (and some men). So wield the power of the “xo” wisely.