Mad About You: 7 Ways To Flip Angry Woman Gender Bias In Your Favor

She’s on a rampage. She’s emotional, hormonal, intense, angry.Whether a woman at work is young, pregnant or older, she is at times labelled angry all the same. Chances are if you are a woman in business, you have been accused of being too emotional with anger assigned to you that is not there.On the tour for her book, What Happened, Hillary Clinton is repeatedly called “angry” in reviews and pundit discussions. Even in the headlines.In the Society of Women Engineers 2016 National Gender Culture Study, anger played a role in the perception of women engineers, as many were labelled as angry if they were assertive.[bctt tweet=“Women are often perceived as angry at work, so higher emotional awareness is key. #WomenLeaders” username=“takeleadwomen”]“The range of acceptable behavior for female engineers is narrower, the study found. They are expected to behave in feminine ways and pronounced ‘angry’ or ‘too masculine’ when just being assertive. Thirty-three percent of women (versus 16 percent of white men) feel pressures to let others take the lead,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.In Cosmopolitan, Lisa Feldman Barrett, psychologist, neuroscientist and the author of How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, writes, “Every successful woman I’ve ever met was branded as an angry bitch at some point in her career, before she was accepted as a leader. Stereotyping can be really subtle sometimes, and it’s helpful to be surrounded by other women who can see what you see, validate your experiences, and help you to push back.”A 2015 study found that the perception of anger in women is costly. “Unfortunately for many women, gender bias is a reality in today’s workplace. A new study about emotional inequality at work conducted by VitalSmarts, a TwentyEighty, Inc. company, reveals women’s perceived competency drops by 35 percent and their perceived deserved compensation by $15,088 when they are assertive or forceful,” according to the Utah study.Maya Dollarhide writes in CNN, “Most employees — male or female — would hesitate to yell at their superiors, but new research provides new evidence that women who show anger in the workplace are viewed as less competent — while men are not.”Dollarhide continues, “In three studies, 463 men and women between 18 and 70 years old watched video of actors pretending to be job seekers or employers. The participants then wrote down which applicants should get the job, the type of responsibility they could handle and how high their salaries should be.”It may be of little surprise that the researchers found women labelled angry lose.“’We found that the women (on the tapes) who were judged as angry lost out in every category,” says Victoria Brescoll, an assistant professor at Yale University’s School of Management. She and Eric Uhlmann, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, conducted the research, published in the March issue of Psychological Science,” Dollarhide writes.“When women express anger at work, no matter what they do on the job, they can be seen as ‘out of control’ or are viewed in a negative light,” Brescoll tells CNN.Lynne Hermle, lead defense counsel for Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, in a lawsuit with Ellen Pao, writes in Business Insider: “I was described as ferocious, razor-tongued, intimidating, notoriously tough, aggressive and imposing. One report even said I made ‘Darth Vader look timid.’”While Hermle appeared to be on the opposing side of women’s parity in the Pao case, she advocates for gender parity in the legal profession.She writes, “And we need more at-bats for women. It is fantastic that 38 law firms, including my own, committed this summer to the Mansfield Rule. It’s named for Arabella Mansfield, the first woman admitted to practice law in the United States. They’ve agreed to include 30 percent women and minorities in candidate pools for all major leadership and governance roles as well as for promotions to equity partner and for hiring.”A courtroom and jury deliberation room seems to be an ideal incubator for studying the effects and perceptions of anger and emotion in women, that can be applied to the workplace.Susan Krauss Whitbourne writes in Psychology Today about the work of  Arizona State University psychologist Jessica Salerno, with University of Chicago-Illinois psychologist Liana Peter-Hagene who “investigated what happens when women and men become angry during jury deliberations.”Whitbourne writes, “In this study, they found,  “Expressing anger created a gender gap in influence that did not exist before the holdout started expressing anger or when the holdouts expressed fear or no emotion. Further analyses revealed the reason for this gender gap: Participants regarded an angry woman as more emotional, which made them more confident in their own opinion.”[bctt tweet=“How can you get around the perception of anger and still get stuff done at work? #WomenAtWork” username=“takeleadwomen”]So how can you get around the perception of anger and still get stuff done? Here are some key strategies to bending the perception in your favor.

  1. Understand this awareness builds your emotional intelligence. While this stereotyping is unfortunate and unfair, Hermle adds, it can make women more aware of how they come across and exacerbate their level of emotional intelligence. For litigating attorneys specifically, that is a good thing. Other women leaders can take it to heart. “Women typically grow up keenly conscious of how we appear to and make social connections with others. We are taught to want to be liked and accepted. We think about how we look and act and how we come across. This sensitivity can make women uniquely qualified to do well in front of jurors, who watch trial lawyers like hawks looking for field mice. Most women trial lawyers can tell stories of jurors in post-trial comments remarking on something innocuous about their appearance—a pair of shoes, a pink shirt, your grandma’s brooch. The upside is their eyes rarely leave us. That can work in our favor.”

  2. Be aware of the edge and soften it. Consultant Lynne Eisaguirre, a former labor and employment attorney and author of The Power of a Good Fight: How To Embrace Conflict to Drive Productivity, Creativity and Innovation, tells CNN she thinks the stereotyping happens on a subconscious level, regardless. One way to avoid the stereotyping, is to avoid the anger and she offers the following tips to doing so: “Women do need to be direct and assertive in their jobs, but they don’t need to do it with an edge. I always tell women on the job, kill them with kindness.”

  3. Tension can be a good thing. “The best-performing teams view tension simply as a typical part of the job in today’s business environment. Well-managed tension is therefore an indicator of strong performance rather than a signal that something is wrong. As such, creating a clear dialogue around conflicts, trade-offs, and compromise is critical. While you want the team to operate from the standpoint of what’s best for the enterprise rather than what’s best for one’s individual function, often the way you get there is by people in each department laying out their concerns. Instead of seeing this as a fight, or assuming bad intentions, be clear that this is a normal part of the process,” write Orla Leonard and Nathan Wiita of RHR International in Harvard Business Review.

  1. Get mad about the big stuff, not the small stuff. You can express moral outrage over discrimination, ethical breaches and crimes against humanity and be forgiven. According to theDaily Mail, “The University of Liverpool concluded that ‘moral anger’ stands apart from other forms of anger, more usually associated with negative traits like aggression, hostility or bullying. ‘Moral anger serves to avoid harm while improving upon or removing an unacceptable situation that violates important moral values,’ said Dr. Dirk Lindebaum from the University’s Management School.‘By prompting helping behaviour, moral anger attempts to reconcile disparity, repair damaging situations, restore equity and improve the human condition.’”

  2. Frame the negative response appropriately with a preemptive warning. According to the Vital Smarts Study, “framing the assertive statement with what the authors term a behavior phrase, a value phrase, or an inoculation phrase, the negative perception was significantly reduced. These phrases include: “I’m going to express my opinion very directly; I’ll be as specific as possible” or “I see this as a matter of honesty and integrity, so it’s important for me to be clear about where I stand” or “I know it’s a risk for a woman to speak this assertively, but I’m going to express my opinion very directly.”

  3. Take a break. Whether you need to physically leave your office, step away from the phone or just breathe deeply in the meeting, do not respond quickly to comments or a situation that may prompt a negative response, or one where you may be perceived as angry. Project that you are in control, deliberate and thoughtful, not reactive. If someone comes at you in anger in a conversation, let the silence hang there for several seconds for effect. Your coworkers, colleagues, clients and team members will remember your strength and restraint. [bctt tweet=“When you feel negativity coming on, take a break. Do not respond quickly. #WomenInTheWorkplace” username=“takeleadwomen”]

  4. Be authentic. If you are angry, don’t throw a tantrum, but calmly state your reaction. As Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead, espouses in her 9 Leadership Power Tools, you can “Wear the Shirt (of Your Convictions).” That is Leadership Power Tool # 6: “What are your core values? What’s your vision? How can you make it happen? Stand in your power and realize your intentions.” Say what you mean and mean what you say. Stand in your truth and power.

Want more Take The Lead posts like this? Sign up to receive the Take The Lead newsletter each week. Learn more about Take The Lead training programs here.