I was cruising the internets at work today when I stumbled upon a rather awesome article on CNN called “Gender Perceptions At Work.” The lede is a list of tips from author BJ Gallagher, entitled “How to Tell a Male Boss From a Female Boss.”
— A male boss is aggressive; a female boss is pushy.
— A male boss is attentive to details; a female boss is picky.
— He knows how to follow through; she doesn’t know when to quit.
— He’s ambitious; she’s driven.
— He loses his temper occasionally; she can’t control her emotions.
— He isn’t afraid to say what he thinks; she’s mouthy.
— He’s a man of action; she’s impulsive.
— He controls his emotions; she’s cold.
— He thinks before he acts; she can’t make up her mind.
— He thinks before he speaks; she second-guesses herself.
— He tells it like it is; she’s tactless.
The list might read like an e-mail forward that people laugh at, but considering the average American woman earns approximately 21 percent less than the average man, is there any truth to these perceptions?
Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so too. But what pleased me most was that the article went on to assert—unambiguously—that these perceptions were 100% reality and not just the product of female hysteria, whining or paranoia, all of which I’ve been accused of when I call out these double standards. I bet you have too.
“I can tell you that the exact same behavior is judged differently, depending on whether it’s a male or a female doing the behavior. This is true at all levels in the organization,” says Gallagher, author of “Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Other Women.”
I’ll go further and say that these double standards hold true in every workplace, from Dunkin Donuts to Goldman Sachs. These perceptions are rooted in our (patriarchial) culture, and the workplace is just a microcosm of the wider culture. I’ve ranted about the retro, gender-biased columns that CNN has run in the past, so I was pleased to see them running one that forthrightly calls out sexism in the workplace. (The column originated on careerbuilder.com)
Vicky Oliver, author of “Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers and Other Office Idiots,” says she sees the differences in how people perceive professional men and women. Oliver says leaders of both genders can show aggression and still be accepted by their employees. The problem arises for midlevel professionals.
“If a woman acts out, underlings will gossip about her, and eventually their whispers will be overheard by someone in top management. If a man in the middle behaves in the same way, sometimes underlings will strive to ally with him. They may perceive that he is powerful or protected. His behavior is still errant, but it’s less likely to get him in trouble because he’ll have more allies to defend him if push comes to shove.”
Oliver also talks about the different emotional responses men and women have, and how they’re perceived. No surprises there, either.
“Crying is the worst emotion to show at the office, and unfortunately, this is generally a female response,” Oliver says. “Crying makes everyone around you feel like you’re weak and out of control, and it will positively unnerve some men in the office who won’t know how to react. Crying seems to be mildly acceptable in certain circumstances (such as when a female employee is laid off); it’s never acceptable as a response to a disagreement or office showdown.”
Naturally, if people didn’t let tears unnerve them, becoming emotional wouldn’t be a problem. But the fact that we use “emotional” to describe tears — but not screaming — alludes to the problem, considering that they’re both effects of an emotion.
Right. Both crying and shouting are unprofessional but since shouting is a “male” response, in the male-dominated business world it gets a pass, whereas crying forever labels the crier as weak and silly. Personally, I’m much more bothered by yelling and berating than I am by tears. Crying might make colleagues or staff uncomfortable, but it doesn’t hurt or demean them the way yelling and berating does.
I once worked at a company where the male boss was prone to sulking, pettiness and red-faced shout-y meltdowns, which we referred to behind his back as “mad-dogging.” No one liked him. His counterpart at another division was a woman who was also prone to sulking and pettiness but tended to burst into tears when things didn’t go her way. She was equally disliked….but her crying was seen as far more shocking and unprofessional than his childish temper-tantrums. Not surprisingly, the male executive worked his way up the corporate ladder rather quickly, and the female one did not.
But at the end of the day, if a woman’s to succeed, she’s going to have to go up against the stereotypes. The article ends this way:
When you think about it, if an outspoken woman is going to be called mouthy and a quiet one will be labeled a pushover, what do you have to lose by being strong-willed?
Not much, I think. And I find it easier to sleep at night if I know that I pushed back when confronted with sexism or inappropriate behavior in the workplace. When I haven’t, I tend to lie awake, replaying the scene in my head, arguing with that same person and smacking them down in an endless loop of what I should have said but didn’t. Pushing back doesn’t mean I have a shit-fit—sometimes just a raised eyebrow does the trick.
Of course, any article discussing pay inequity, workplace sexism or double-standards is inevitably going to rouse the chauvinist trolls, and sure enough, they came scuttling out from under their bridge and onto the CNN comments.
Shrieking harpy is shrieking, wrote one of the commenters.
Yep. And we’re not going to stop, so you might want to invest in some earplugs and watch out for claws.