Professional women suffer negative consequences for displays of emotion in the workplace, while professional men are accorded benefits for similar behaviors.
Public expressions of emotion are governed by strongly gendered social rules. Violating those rules can evoke negative reactions from others. Past research has demonstrated that expressions of anger demonstrate competence and high status. Male job applicants who expressed anger were shown to be more likely to be hired than those who expressed sadness, and they were subsequently given more power and autonomy in their jobs. However, women’s expressions of anger – because they run counter to social expectations – can decrease rather than increase women’s status and perceived competence. Displays of anger from men are often viewed as a response to external circumstances, (i.e. they were provoked), while displays of anger by women are more likely to be seen as an internal trait (I.e. she is an angry person). These three studies examine the relationship between gender, displays of emotion, internal and external interpretations for emotional reactions, and status in the professional context.
Women who expressed anger in a professional context were accorded lower status, lower wages, and less competence, while the opposite was true for men.
- In evaluating job candidates, study participants conferred higher status on angry men than on sad men; higher status on angry men than angry women; and higher status on sad women than angry women.
- Participants were more likely to attribute women’s anger to internal factors (their personality, temperament, etc.) than external factors (like the situation, other people’s provocation).
- When they displayed anger, women’s occupational rank (executive versus trainee) had no impact on how the study participants perceived their status and competence. For example, participants accorded higher salaries to unemotional female trainees than they did to angry female CEOs.
- Participants accorded female job candidates who provided an explanation for their anger significantly higher status and higher salaries than female candidates who expressed anger with no explanation. Explaining the external cause for their anger brought women’s status and salary rates almost up to the level of men who expressed anger.
This study demonstrated that women are subject to negative backlash for expressing anger in professional settings even while men are accorded higher status for the same emotional displays. Moreover, the loss in status and perceived competence in women is a result of others attributing their anger to personal characteristics, rather than legitimate external situations. When an external cause is provided, the effect is mitigated.
In all three studies, participants viewed videos of actors playing the part of male or female job candidates being interviewed and then answered questions about their perceptions of the interviewee’s status, competence, and what salary they deserved. The job candidates expressed anger, sadness, or no emotion, had higher or lower status jobs, and did or did not overtly explain their emotional display. The study participants also answered questions to indicate whether they believed the interviewee’s display of emotion was due to his/her personality or was provoked by an especially difficult situation and whether the candidate was “in control” or “out of control.”
In Study One, 39 males and 30 females were randomly assigned to watch a videotaped job interview in which a male or female professional described losing an important account, and feeling either sadness or anger. Researchers assessed participants’ thoughts on how much status, power, and independence the candidate deserved in his or her future.
Study Two compared the effects of displaying anger versus not displaying emotion, and varied the candidate’s professional rank (trainee or executive). This study randomly assigned 70 males and 110 females to watch one of eight videos. The videos were nearly identical to those of Study One, with addition of information about each target’s professional rank.
Study Three, with 51 male participants and 82 female participants randomly assigned to watch one of six videos, completing measures similar to Studies One and Two (status conferral, salary allocation, and competence). Similar to Study Two, Study Three compared the effects of displaying anger versus not displaying emotion, and also introduced external attribution for anger as a variable.
Brescoll, Victoria L., and Eric Luis Uhlmann. "Can an angry woman get ahead? Status conferral, gender, and expression of emotion in the workplace." Psychological science 19.3 (2008): 268-275.
Brescoll, V. L., & Uhlmann, E. L. (2008). Can an angry woman get ahead? Status conferral, gender, and expression of emotion in the workplace. Psychological science, 19(3), 268-275.
Brescoll, Victoria L., and Eric Luis Uhlmann. "Can an angry woman get ahead? Status conferral, gender, and expression of emotion in the workplace." Psychological science 19, no. 3 (2008): 268-275.