(Ping! Zine) – If you’re a woman in the working world, you’ve been there. That moment when, after hearing yet another sexist joke from a male colleague or after granting a male customer’s request to speak to your less experienced but male colleague, you’ve had enough. You lose your cool. You cry (or shout). Unfortunately, says Roxanne Rivera, these emotional reactions feed the stereotype that women are too emotional to successfully lead in the workplace. She explains that making up 50 percent of the workforce won’t mean anything until we gain more respect.
“One of the first and most important lessons I learned as a woman in a male-dominated company was that I couldn’t scream and cry, or at least, that I couldn’t do either regularly,” says Rivera, author of There’s No Crying in Business: How Women Can Succeed in Male-Dominated Industries (Palgrave Macmillan, December 2009, ISBN: 978-0-2306181-2-1, $39.95). “In male-dominated industries and really the business world in general, stereotypes die hard, and one of the most common is that women are too emotional to be effective leaders or managers.”
The added challenge, Rivera points out, is that women have to walk a very thin line. They can’t be too tough with men or they will be labeled with the B-word, but they can’t risk being viewed as too weak either.
“How can women be accused of being too tough and too soft simultaneously?” asks Rivera. “Here’s how: in male-ruled organizations, both reactions are viewed as emotional extremes. Men pride themselves on being tough without being unfair or overly nasty. They allow themselves a small measure of emotion at work—usually anger—but take pride in how they control themselves. They see women as out of control. Men think we are either angry all the time or too easily hurt.”
Rivera holds that the best way to begin debunking the women-are-too-emotional stereotypes that exist is to better understand them. Here are a few points to keep in mind the next time you find yourself on the verge of losing control in the workplace.
Men think emotional women can’t think straight. A Penn State University study conducted by Stephanie Shields, a professor of psychology and women’s studies, found that when men cry, they are often viewed as sensitive and caring, while when women cry, they are frequently seen as incompetent and incapable of doing their jobs. In terms of anger, Yale psychologist Victoria Brescoll conducted a study published in Psychological Science that found that “People accept and even reward men who get angry but view women who lose their temper as less competent.”
“Many men have this perception that women, even if they may appear cool, calm, and collected 99.9 percent of the time, are always on the verge of an emotional fit,” says Rivera. “They think that when women let emotions play a role in their work lives that they give up their ability to think rationally and make good decisions. Obviously, we women know that just isn’t the case. But because in the vast majority of the business world the male opinion rules the day, women must keep their emotions in check in order to avoid being dismissed as someone who can’t be trusted to keep her emotions out of her day-to-day decision making.”
Men often don’t know the difference between stereotypes and reality. In traditionally male-dominated companies or industries, men often harbor beliefs about women and work that simply aren’t true. Unfortunately, without the actual experience of working with women at managerial levels, these men don’t realize that their beliefs are stereotypical rather than factual. As a result, emotional outbursts from female colleagues end up confirming male stereotypical thinking. So when women act overly angry, men stamp them with the B-word label and assume that no men will want to work for them if they’re promoted to leadership positions. Or when they are overly tearful or sensitive, men typecast them as “weak sisters” who aren’t sufficiently decisive to deal with difficult problems.
“Most of the time, women aren’t pushed to either emotional extreme,” says Rivera. “Yet it would be a mistake to ignore the probability that at least once during your tenure at a male-dominated business, you’re going to feel like crying or yelling. Knowing the best way to deal with these difficult moments is crucial. When you find yourself in a situation that is pushing you toward losing control of your emotions, take yourself out of it as soon as possible. Escape to your office or to the restroom where you can get away from your male counterparts, gather yourself, and return to handle the situation without letting anyone know they got the best of you.”
Being seen as overly emotional will harm your credibility. Even in companies where men and women enjoy equal status, women who are more emotional than the norm may not advance as quickly because of their emotive behaviors.
“In the working world, if emotional extremes are viewed as being part of your MO, they will inevitably harm your credibility and in turn your career,” says Rivera. “Therefore, women need to make a conscious effort to control their emotions, at least in public settings. This doesn’t mean you should act like a robot. It doesn’t mean that you can’t become angry every once in a while or show others that you’re upset. Problems occur, however, when people perceive you as consistently angry or consistently soft or weak. This is when people start saying, ‘She’s not tough enough to handle situations that are part of our business,’ or, ‘She’s a terror. No one is going to work for her and she’s going to alienate our customers.’ Program yourself to remain even tempered in the face of adversity. If you are seen as a woman who stays calm and collected in stressful situations, you will earn the respect of your male colleagues.”
Colleagues and leaders won’t trust you. Rivera points out an important caveat for women when it comes to controlling their emotions. Try to create an artificial persona in the workplace, whether it’s one that always acts without emotion or one that leaves a trail of quaking subordinates in her wake, and you’re going to be seen as a fake and someone who can’t be trusted.
“You must act naturally, but in control,” says Rivera. “In other words, think before you emote. Everyone will forgive and forget a rare, relatively mild outburst. Problems result, though, when people start assuming these outbursts are your attempts to gain sympathy or respect. And once you’ve fallen into that category, it is nearly impossible to get out. Be yourself. You don’t have to be the emotional equivalent of a zombie, but you do need to be in tune with your emotions. Know what can set you off and know the best way for you to quickly regain control any time you find yourself on the edge. When you are seen as someone who is even-tempered, those you work with, both male and female, will know they can trust you.”
“Because men have ruled the roost in the business world for so many years, I think they incorrectly assume that emotions are absolutely useless in business,” says Rivera. “This is actually where women have the upper hand. Today’s working women are succeeding because they bring qualities to their jobs that are absolutely essential nowadays.
“Relationships are of increasing importance to just about every company,” concludes Rivera. “To build strong relationships, you need to be empathetic with others and have a certain amount of intuition to guide you through how to connect with that person—two areas where women tend to excel more than men. If you can channel your emotional self into your relationship building, your male colleagues will be too busy marveling at your success to stop and criticize you.”
About the Author:
Roxanne Rivera is the president and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors of New Mexico and the author of There’s No Crying in Business. She also serves as New Mexico’s liaison to the National Associated Builders and Contractors in Washington, DC.
Roxanne has been working in the construction industry for decades. In 1981, using a personal savings of $1,200, Rivera co-founded a sole proprietorship construction service business and grew it to a $13 million company that incorporated in 1989. She oversaw all operations and up to 100 employees plus subcontractors in three offices throughout New Mexico. She wrote, marketed, and secured multi-million-dollar contracts in both the government and private sectors.
Rivera’s key clients included the US Army Corps of Engineers, White Sands Missile Range, the US Air Force, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the Department of Defense, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Intel, General Electric, Ethicon, and Rockwell International.
Her construction firm received numerous small business awards, including two Small Business Administrator’s Awards of Excellence and several nominations for Small Business Prime Contractor of the Year. She was named Female Executive of the Year by the National Association of Female Executives in 1995. Her firm was listed in the Top 500 Hispanic-Owned Businesses in the United States for five consecutive years.
Rivera has been appointed to several national advisory committees, most recently appointed by former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao to the National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics where she was the only businessperson on the committee.
She has served on both the Association of Builders and Contractors and the Associated General Contractors Boards of Directors. She also served on the Board of Directors for the University of New Mexico Construction Program Advisory Council, which she helped to found. Rivera has been an active community leader, currently serving on the board for the YWCA, and has worked extensively with ARCA, the Association for Retarded Citizens of Albuquerque.
Rivera has also spoken at and conducted seminars throughout the country with regard to Communication in the Construction Industry and Women in Construction.
In addition to her position with ABC, Roxanne serves as founder and CEO of Syntactics Communication Skills, LLC, a company that offers presentation and speaking skills training and coaching to executives at every level.
For more information, please visit www.nocryinginbusiness.com.
About the Book:
There’s No Crying in Business: How Women Can Succeed in Male-Dominated Industries (Palgrave Macmillan, December 2009, ISBN: 978-0-2306181-2-1, $39.95) is available at bookstores nationwide and from major online booksellers.
Article By Dottie DeHart