Men can get angry at work, but women can’t. Really. A recent study from Victoria Brescoll and Eric Luis Uhlmann supports this fact.
Adult men and women were shown videotapes of both men and women who were being interviewed for a job. In the interviews they described a situation in which they lost a major client to a colleague. The interviewee was either sad or angry as a result of this situation.
Angry men were assigned more status, salary and competence than sad men by both men and women observing the interviews. The angry men were also assigned more status, salary and competence than the angry women.
Respondents were asked whether the anger was due to the person (“she/he became angry because of his/her personality” or “she/he is an angry person”) or if it was due to the situation (“she/he became angry because of the situation” or “her/his colleague’s behaviour caused her/his anger”). Participants were more likely to believe that women’s anger was due to her personality, while men’s anger was due to the situation.Thus, women were incompetent and out of control when angry, while men were competent and justified in their anger.
So does it matter what occupational rank the woman holds? Rank (e.g. CEO as compared to trainee) did not change participants assessment that angry women were less competent, deserved a lower salary or had lower status. If anything, higher ranking women who expressed anger were judged more harshly in terms of competence.
If women provided a reason for her anger, she received higher status, was attributed a higher salary, but it did not “influence perceptions of her competence” as compared to a women who did not provide a reason for her anger. She was still perceived as being less competent than an angry man.
Interestingly, if a man provided a reason for his anger, his attributed status and salary were LOWER than a man who did not provide a reason for his anger. In other words, we don’t expect men to explain or justify their anger.
The authors suggest that these results fit with the theory of “emotional display rules”. In other words, there are certain emotions that men are allowed to display, and certain emotions that women are allowed to display. If these rules are violated, both men and women seem to be judged harshly. Men are not allowed to be sad, or to apologize. Women are not allowed to be angry.
As sad as this makes me, this is what it is. It’s way beyond my pay grade to try to change eons of history. It means that, whether I like it or not, this is the world in which I live. While I want to bemoan the unfairness of it all, to quote my dad, “life is not fair”.