In a moment of sheer boredom several weeks ago, I decided to watch a new TV show to kill some free time. But I didn’t choose to watch "Parks and Recreation," "The Office" or "House of Cards." No, I turned on "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" for the first time in my life. I had seen the memes but had never watched an episode of the reality show myself.
Three minutes in, I gave up. Not because of the mind-numbing drama, the petty fights or the self-absorbedness of this family. No, I turned off the show just as quickly as I turned it on because Kim Kardashian’s voice grated heavily on my nerves.
Kim Kardashian, along with many other women, employ vocal fry into their daily speech.
“True vocal fry is a lazy, kind of low-pitched voice … and that low-pitched guttural voice can be because of how the person is using their voice,” said Denise Stats-Caldwell, clinical associate professor and speech-language pathologist at the ASU College of Health Solutions.
This type of speech pattern is commonly used and some believe it damages women’s chances at conducting successful interviews.
“It has been tied to women being perceived as uncertain and lacking in confidence when they interview," Stats-Caldwell said. "That’s the detriment because as women we really want to present ourselves as confident, intelligent and prepared."
If I were interviewing with a potential employer I found through Career and Professional Development Services at ASU, I want to take advantage of every possible opportunity to make an assertive statement that shows I am capable and confident. If employing vocal fry into my language detracts from my perceived maturity, then I wouldn’t use it.
In Ikuko Patricia Yuasa’s examination of vocal fry, cited in the May 2014 PLOS One Journal, “While vocal fry is perceived negatively regardless of the age of the listener, older listeners perceived vocal fry more negatively when asked to judge competence.”
In a study conducted at the Long Island University, women from the ages 19-27 recorded the phrase “thank you for considering me for this opportunity” in their normal and vocal fry voices. Eight hundred participants heard the playback and rated how competent, trustworthy, attractive and educated the voices were and asked would they hire each woman.
The results displayed on the whole women were perceived as less educated, competent, attractive and trustworthy, thus less likely to get hired. The study concluded that, “Collectively, these results suggest young American women should avoid vocal fry in order to maximize labor market perceptions…”
In a time when graduating college students stress about not finding jobs, it makes sense that people should avoid any behaviors that might damage credibility. Not using vocal fry appears to aid in creating a more poised persona and optimizes chances for scoring a job.
Although people associate vocal fry more with women, men also use vocal fry in their speech. For example, Noam Chomsky, Bruce Willis and Johnny Depp. However, it seems the general public notices it more when women do it because of the natural lower register men have in their voices.
While on a day-to-basis vocal fry does not do a lot of damage, it has a much more harmful consequence within the realm of the workplace.
To combat vocal fry, Stats-Caldwell said women can choose to go to therapy to promote forward flow of air up into the mouth or simply develop self-monitoring of the behavior. In addition, altering speech itself and using direct language helps create an assertive tone.
“As women, we tend to use indirect language or to insert a lot of concessionary language into our speech," Stats-Caldwell said. "So ‘could I trouble you to,’ ‘I’m sorry but,’ and I think speaking more directly and omitting our use of ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I hate to trouble you but,’ would be very helpful."
Even despite the prospects that vocal fry may damage a woman’s credibility, the trend is on the rise with women. Researchers from Long Island University hypothesized that, “There may be social acceptance benefits to females conforming to an increasingly common peer group affectation."
Other researchers at Duke University and University of California at San Diego discovered in their study that CEO’s with, “deeper voices manage larger companies and as a result make more money.” Perhaps women use that conjecture to try to imitate a deeper voice in the workplace.
Whatever reason women choose to use vocal fry is not entirely clear. However, to increase employability women should consider adjusting their vocal behavior to ensure a better chance at scoring a job.
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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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