The Acceptable Range

July 22, 2014

You’d be more emotional too if you were underpaid and awesome.

A few years ago, I was talking with my husband about who he thought was more emotional at work in his experience:  men or women.  He said women, definitely.  I said on the team I worked on and in general, I would say the men were more emotional.  I asked my then boss what his opinion was, and he also said women.  I then challenged him to think about our current team and who the most emotional person on our team was, and he had to agree with me that in that case, it was obviously a man.  Yet he insisted he found women much more emotional than men in the workplace on average.

My own experience has been very different from theirs.  As a woman who has led teams of roughly 1000-1500 people throughout most of my career, I have worked with a lot of executives of both sexes.  On the whole, I have found that the men in my teams have been more needy, requiring validation and praise at a rate their female counterparts did not and reacting in a more defensive manner than women.  They have also been more emotional about pay, asking for raises when performance hasn’t merited an increase.  I’ve also found the men to be more sensitive to personal slights.  By contrast, the majority of the women I’ve led have been open to feedback and even willing to brook personal embarrassment that would bring their male counterparts to their knees.  They are far more likely to defer praise and to talk about teamwork rather than individual achievement, probably to their detriment.  I have never, in over twenty years as an executive, encountered a man whose pay was unfairly below that of his peers (I have seldom encountered low paid men at all), but I have frequently found women in my teams whose pay was lower than their contribution merited–inequities I have addressed when I found them.  In fairness, I have also managed a handful of overpaid women.

So is this just a simple case of men not relating to women and women not relating to men?  I’m sure that’s one component.  Men find male expressions of emotion more familiar and therefore more acceptable than they find female expressions of emotion, and perhaps the opposite is also true.  Consider the ways in which emotions may be expressed in the workplace:

  • Angry outbursts
  • Tears of frustration or sadness
  • Behavior under stress
  • Expressing empathy
  • Fear or nervousness
  • Insecurity
  • Bluster
Men actually feel more emotional pain than women after break-ups

What will I do with all this extra pay?

Studies show that the range for female expression that is acceptable is much more narrow than the range for men.  One element at play is what has become known as the Heidi / Howard principle:

Researchers from Columbia’s Business School asked students to appraise the resume of an entrepreneur called Howard Roizen.  His resume showed that Mr Howard had worked at Apple, launched his own software company and been a partner at a venture capital firm.  He was a proficient networker and had very powerful friends including Bill Gates.  Colleagues described him as a “catalyst” and a “captain of industry”.  The students thought he’d be an excellent person to have within a company because he was someone who got things done and was likeable.

Now the interesting part of this experiment was that Mr Howard doesn’t exist.

When students were asked to review the true owner of the resume Ms “Heidi” Roizen they judged her to be more selfish and less desirable than Mr Howard, even though she was viewed as being equally as effective.

The Heidi / Howard study reveals the deep bias that exists in men’s favor and against women, a bias that is largely unexamined and subconscious.  There is an assumption if a woman is successful, she’s a failure in other ways, she can’t be a good person or a good mother, or she doesn’t deserve her success.  If a man is successful, the assumption is that he deserves his success and has worked hard for it, that he is inherently better (more skilled, more popular) than someone who is less successful.  Of course, these are stereotypes, and hopefully they are shifting.  One cause for this problem is lack of female representation at the highest levels in corporations.  But another symptom is that the acceptable range of emotion for men and women differs.  Consider this (BLUE = acceptable range of emotional expression; RED = unacceptable range):

On a scale of expressing SADNESS:

MEN:  [sobbing]…[tearful]....[misty-eyed]…[tremulous voice]….[wistful]…[resolute]…[stoic]

WOMEN:  [sobbing]…[tearful]…[misty-eyed]…[tremulous voice]…[wistful]…[resolute]….[stoic]

Expressing HAPPINESS:

MEN:  [serenity]….[smiling]…[laughter]…[hooting or cheering]…[punching the air/jumping]…[dancing]

WOMEN:   [serenity]…[smiling]…[laughter]….[hooting or cheering]….[punching the air/jumping]…[dancing]

I dare you to tell me to smile. [Has RBF]

While these ranges doubtless differ by industry (some industries are more emotionally expressive by nature), the general observation is that a woman risks being labelled as “too” emotional in a wider range of emotional expression than does a man.  A man who is “more” emotional is often seen as sensitive or particularly kind and empathetic.  He may not be seen as having a “killer instinct,” but his expression is perfectly acceptable for a wide range of roles or opportunities.  A woman expressing too much sadness runs the risk of being seen as too weak, but she also may be viewed as too cold (an ice queen) if she expresses too little emotion.  A woman expressing too much joy may be seen as silly or a cheerleader rather than a serious professional, whereas high levels of enthusiasm on the part of a man may be seen as humorous and affable.  And smiling too infrequently can be disastrous for a woman also because women are expected to be more positive than men.  If you don’t believe this, why is “Resting Bitch Face” a big problem for Hillary but not for any of the hundreds of men who have run for president previously?  How many times are women in the workplace told to smile vs. how many times men are told to smile?

The fewer women in  positions of authority, the narrower the range of expression that is acceptable for women, and this is why it is so important that we have both male and female leaders represented in organizations that include both men and women.

Discuss.

15 Responses to The Acceptable Range

  1. Jenonator on July 22, 2014 at 9:20 AM

    You sound like a great boss because of your broad perspective on this issue. I never considered that men may be emotional at work too-I just may not recognize their expressions of these feelings as such.

    When I think about my prior work environments, I must agree with you. The men are wet more emotional than I had considered. I saw anger in them when they were frustrated where in women it might have been expressed as sadness. I saw depression expressed as 0 productivity on some days. Women may have done so more discreetly.

    In restrospect, I smiled a lot and it contributed to moving up the ladder. I believe that had I smiled less, I would have been respected more by my peers.

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  2. Mormon Heretic on July 22, 2014 at 9:51 AM

    Hawk, I think these are interesting observations. I do think there are some double-standards going on here.

    Having said that, and possibly opening up a can of worms, I do find it interesting that when evaluating children, it seems generally agreed upon that boys are easier to raise than girls. My wife has said that girls seem much more emotional than boys, and boys are just easier to deal with. I’ve also heard the expression that it is easier to live with a man than with a woman (I’ve heard this from both genders.)

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  3. IDIAT on July 22, 2014 at 10:23 AM

    Perhaps the Howard/Heidi thing is not quite what you think it is.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/03/are-successful-women-really-less-likable-than-successful-men/273926/

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  4. Martin on July 22, 2014 at 11:39 AM

    I work in a pretty male-dominated environment – R&D in an engineering/tech field. With the exception of one notable individual, the women have been less emotional and more stable. But the sample size is small. However, the men yell and argue in a manner that women couldn’t get away with. Of course, outside of this environment, I’m not sure the men could either.

    On the other hand, there’s clearly more behind-the-scenes drama being played out among those in HR and administrative assistance, where almost all the employees are female. The same engineers who argue and yell tend to look at them as being slightly crazy and catty and keep their distance.

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  5. Douglas on July 22, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    MH wrote: “” it seems generally agreed upon that boys are easier to raise than girls.” While I generally agree with this, having raised a slew of both, it still depends upon the child. The lads tend to be more energetic as wee tykes, part of this being compounded by life in suburbia and not letting little ones roam freely as they used to (for obvious reasons)..we diagnose “hyperactivity” when in reality it’s the ways little boys ARE. My childhood, in the 60’s and early 70’s, fairly much meant I took off and hung out with my chums…things like riding my “spyder bike” through the creek (rocky bottom and only about 6″ deep) and impromptu games of football, especially when it rained. It’s when they hit the teen years you worry about them getting involved with gangs and crime…or, as the ficitonal Howard Cunningham told Marion..”You deal with headaches and runny noses, and I’ll deal with plastered!”. Girls have their own challenges…they tend to be sweeter and more “manageable” when little…(but NOT always!), but then when they hit young womanhood…or as an erstwhile co-worker, an older lady with a very frank way of speaking put it, “once my daughter sprouted boobs and a butt she was outta control!”. With a daughter, you worry about bad dating relationships and/or things like unplanned preganncies. You’d like to think that if you’ve done your level best that you’ll avoid these respective calamnities, BUT…life doesn’t come with ironclad guarentees! After all, the first earthly parents, Adam and Eve, were perfectly “Able” to “raise Cain”, and look how THAT turned out…

    As for HOW much emotion is ‘tolerated’ by men in the workplace…frankly, having done Federal Civillian service in several DoD agencies, I’d say darned little…not only the “Emo” stuff, but also expressions of anger and controlling the salty language. Of course, I’m using to dealing with senior officers in a military environment which has its own standards of personal conduct that at least match most stuffy corporate boardrooms. That doesn’t mean that they men (and a few women) with the stars on their shoulders aren’t ‘real’ (most are more ‘real’ than the jerk Lt. Col trying to make Colenol and the Colenols gunning for Brig. General), they just don’t readily show it. Self-control is the expectation, whether you’re a man or a woman. My agencies and most like it also have to deal with our counterparts in Federal and State regulatory agencies as well, so it’s a matter of we represent the Federal Government, so we have to put ourselves aside and assume the role. Sound familiar? The rule of thumb is I let my boss do the swearing, hopefully not being the reason for the saltiness of his tongue! I let it go in the gym or in the privacy of my garage, where thanks to the Everlast company, I have something to beat the unholy crap out of and the worst consequence is maybe having to spend a C-note on its replacement.

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  6. Roger on July 22, 2014 at 2:19 PM

    Hawk– I find what you have written to be valid–both the traditional knee-jerk reaction that “women just gotta be more emotional” and the more reflective conclusion that males indeed spool up in grossly emotional fashion. I’m not just talking sick-outs, rants and tirades, but suicide threats (even carried out). But a spin-off on this is whether we would agree with HL Mencken (a noted misogynist) who is credited with the observation that men an women agree on only one thing: You can’t trust women.

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  7. John Mansfield on July 22, 2014 at 2:37 PM

    It is permissible to ignore men’s emoting, all transient and meaningless. Women’s must be given attention, and so responsible women keep it in check.

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  8. Angela C on July 22, 2014 at 3:38 PM

    MH: As to raising boys vs. girls, it’s an interesting question. I tend to think that the easy part is that boys never come home pregnant. In my experience, both my boys were plenty emotional, storming out, doors slamming, huffing around. I don’t think the girls corner the market, but our daughter is still just 11. She’s capable of being very emotional too. Who knows, really? It’s certainly interesting raising teens.

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  9. Douglas on July 22, 2014 at 5:14 PM

    #8 – Whether “Happy Days” or “Wait ‘Till Your Father Gets Home” (remember THAT one?) it seems to come back to characters done by Tom Bosley, everyone’s “Dad”. In the cartoon, he voiced the observation in reining in “liberated” daughter Alice (this was 1972, prior to Feminazism) that “boys DON’T get pregnant!”. Daughter is eleven? The “phun” has just begun…and I’ve been at this raising kids thing for over thirty years, and with the baby of the family (she’s fourteen), I’m still getting a surprise or two.
    That’s another reason why Grandpahood is SO much BETTER…I just RENT, I don’t BUY…

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  10. mh on July 22, 2014 at 6:11 PM

    I don’t have teens, so pregnancy is not an issue (yet). Most moms and dads I know are saying this about pre-teens.

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  11. JS on July 23, 2014 at 11:39 AM

    I worked for a manager who paid new male employees more than female employees who had been with the company for years, me included.
    Of course pay raises were given to the manager’s favorites, and the favorites were the slackers but master manipulators and usually male. In todays work place hard work and doing the right thing and loyalty no longer gets one a raise or a move up the ladder.
    Good article and I agree with it.

    I raised one boy and one girl and to me neither one was more difficult than the other to raise. Whether male or female, each child has their own unique personality.

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  12. New Iconoclast on July 23, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    I’ve raised three boys and two girls, and the youngest (girl, now 13) has just come out of her most difficult stage, and is becoming human. I wouldn’t say that either gender has been more or less difficult than the other, but I realize that I don’t have a representative sample. My boys have been more emotional than my girls by a long chalk, especially my oldest – who, at 24 and married, still manages to throw a sulking fit like – well, dinosaur that I am, I was about to say “like an adolescent girl.” But my girls never did that.

    All of my hollow-core doors have or had holes punched halfway through them, by my boys, not my girls. My youngest daughter had some dark tantrums, but nothing lke her biggest brother.

    In the workplace, I think your observations, Hawk, are not only interesting but valid. A great case of what we think we know not being true, or being colored by our perceptions and our comfort with a broader range of male expression than female.

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  13. hawkgrrrl on July 23, 2014 at 3:35 PM

    I was thinking about my kids and which sex is harder to raise, and while I have found them to all be emotional and moody in their own ways, angry at times, one off set is that my daughter really does care about school and is more sociable, two characteristics viewed as stereotypically female, both of which (in her case anyway) have made parenting somewhat easier, even if she may be more prone to slights. We have had to push much harder, watch grades, and check homework with her brothers whereas she would be mortified if her teachers or peers thought she wasn’t doing well. They would blame the teacher for having content that failed to engage them or for being unable to recognize their brilliance. She would blame herself and feel embarrassed. Again, that could just be their individual personalities (I remember being more arrogant like my boys were, although I also didn’t want to be called out in front of my peers at school).

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  14. mossbloom on July 26, 2014 at 5:39 AM

    I was raised with 4 brothers. My brothers were just as emotional as I was, but I was the only one who ever heard from my parents, “Watch out, it must be her time of the month,” starting from about age 9. Whenever I was upset about anything, it was dismissed as hormones and me being irrational, while my brothers’ feelings were validated and worked through (because adolescent boys aren’t influenced by hormones, right?). I also heard all the time at school and church that women shouldn’t be President because they are too emotional. It was definitely ingrained into my brothers and I that “feminine” emotionality was shameful, but “masculine” emotionality was admirable.

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  15. Jeff Spector on July 26, 2014 at 1:29 PM

    Being in a High Tech company, we didn’t see a lot of emotions from either men or women because it was a pretty low key environment where everyone was expected to be nice to one another. Things have changed and now we have VP’s (mainly men), who get very emotional, use foul language and demean others. Nothing happens to them. In the past, it would not have been allowed. Even with “tighter” rules on abuse in the workplace, it now happens more because people fear retribution more than they used to.

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