In order to create environments that support strong female leaders, the way in which women’s emotions are viewed in the workplace needs to change.
My experience has shown that if you want to be respected in the world of tech, you have to conform to the prevailing social norms and leave your emotions at the door. Executive presence is practically synonymous with emotional self-control,but it seems there is a double standard that allows men to display strong emotions at work, whereas women are judged harshly when they behave similarly.
Should women just conform to the social norms and keep any display of emotion in check, or should we expect the norms around emotions to change? There isn’t much consensus on this.
Take crying for example. A survey done by Anne Kreamer for her book, It’s Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace, found that 41% of the women said they had cried at work, whereas only 9% of the men admitted to crying. However, Kreamer notes that most women feel bad afterward. “In spite of the cathartic physiological benefits, women who cry at work feel rotten afterward, as if they’ve failed a feminism test.”
Women leaders offer differing advice on showing tears in the workplace. On one side there is Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and founder of Lean In Foundation, who says, “I’ve cried at work. I try to be myself.” On the other side, there is Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, who says, “I believe that tears should be private and no matter what issue, or what situation, we should have a dignified demeanor.”
In my opinion, based on my discussions with women, you need to be selective about whom you trust with your tears. Some people might judge you harshly, while others know that crying can help people think through tough situations more clearly. I heard a story about a woman manager who cried in the office of one of her male executives, many levels superior to her. At the end of the conversation, when she was apologetic for crying, the exec said, “Don’t worry about it. A lot of people come in my office and cry.”
When it comes to showing anger at work, there is a big double standard. For instance, there is a popular story about how Steve Ballmer, when he was CEO of Microsoft, allegedly threw a chair across the room at Mark Lukovsky, one of his valued engineers, when Lukovsky was in Ballmer’s office to announce he was resigning to work at Google.Though Ballmer disputes the allegation that he threw the chair, he doesn’t dispute the rage he displayed, not to mention the epithets and off-color things he said at the time about Google.Everyone talks about this incident as though it were funny, but imagine if a woman behaved in a similar fashion in the workplace? In all likelihood, her reputation would never recover.
In addition, the underlying assumption that women are too emotional affects their growth in the workplace. It affects the kinds of reality-check feedback women receive, which undermines their growth as leaders. It’s been found that both male and female managers, have a hard time giving tough feedback to women.One reason they avoid it is that they think women can’t handle it. What happens when women are not given honest feedback? They can’t improve.
Those that think that women are too emotional to handle tough feedback could learn a thing or two from the legendary Geno Auriemma, who has been the head coach of the University of Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team for over three decades, in which time they have won a record eleven national titles. His secret to success has been delivering tough-love feedback to his team. He says leaders should stop treating women as if they were fragile, but rather work with them as they would any other player on the team.
Yes, we should treat women at work like any other player on the team. The fact is, both men and women feel emotions at work and, when they show their emotions, we shouldn’t be quick to judge. In the long term, in order to foster workplace cultures that allow women leaders to thrive, the double standard for emotions needs to be addressed. In the meantime, in the words of one well-respected female tech leader whom I talked to, “You need people you can confide in, and you don’t show your emotions to everyone.”
This extract, adapted from Nevertheless, She Persisted: True Stories Of Women Leaders In Tech by Pratima Rao Gluckman, is ©2018 and reproduced with permission from the author. www.pratimagluckman.com