Recently, the question of women and anger/emotion in the workplace has been getting some press, and I find myself flip-flopping on how I feel about it. It started with a comment by a senior-level female exec I GREATLY admire who admitted to getting so angry in an executive boardroom situation that she cried. The reaction to the tears from her male counterparts was, "No crying allowed." Instead of recoiling, she took a moment and channeled that anger into an expletive-laced tirade that would make any sailor proud, and then quit her job. Every woman in the room applauded as if to say, "YES! YOU GO GIRL! Wish I had the guts to do that!" Another female exec used the notion of "no crying" as an example of what people tell women at an early age that holds them back from being successful.
I was right there, in the moment, applauding and cheering, when it started to dawn on me how on many occasions I as a manager have told someone to stop being emotional. Stop crying.
Feeling like a horrible boss, I started to open my eyes to articles and other blogs on the subject only to realize people are really divided on this topic.
Last week, I got this LinkedIn post from a doctor doing a study on women and anger. His question to professional women was this: Do you, as professional women, find that it is just as acceptable for you to express anger appropriately (at work, socially) as it is for men? Great question that leads to a lot of debate about "controlled anger" vs. "raw anger" and when anger can be effective. It also brought up debate on the topic of male anger vs. female tears. What is the difference? Is it OK for men to get visibly angry in the workplace but not OK for women to express anger in the form of tears?
Another study I just saw by Arizona State University aims to answer that question. The study points out that when women are emotional or angry, they get a different response than men.
"Our study suggests that women might not have the same opportunity for influence when they express anger," said ASU psychologist Jessica Salerno in a press release. "We found that when men expressed their opinion with anger, participants rated them as more credible, which made them less confident in their own opinion. But when women expressed identical arguments and anger, they were perceived as more emotional, which made participants more confident in their own opinion." Wow. Seems it helps men and hurts women.
Then it hit me again, I had been asking people (women) over the years to hold in a natural emotion when, in fact, the tears or anger actually have led to some positive change. I was working against my own people! I'm not talking about habitual criers who lose it at every turn. I'm talking about women who are so passionate about a point that on occasion the waterworks just start flowing. I'll admit I'm not a crier, but I have gotten angry, even cried a few times, and I will say that maybe because it is so infrequent, that it had weight, power. In that same vein, I know many men who have used anger (emotion) to drive a point home—and it does add urgency.
So armed with all of this conversation and data, which side do I fall on? I guess at the end of the day I realize that everyone deserves to be heard, that women and men probably do process anger and emotion differently, and we should understand, at an individual level, what makes a person tick. Conversely, I am not surprised at the findings in the ASU study. Heck, guilty as charged. Consider me enlightened.
I hope you enjoy these links. Please let me know your thoughts!