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Angry young man – or woman?

Is workplace anger a gender thing? Find out more about the phenomenon

ANGER ISN’T THE MEDICINE Laughter can defuse explosive situations at the workplace

Hema Raman, Director, Sriram Law Academy, remarked during a conversation, “Let a woman show anger, even legitimate anger in the workplace, the response is a disapproving ‘tsk, tsk’”. She is labelled aggressive, incapable or wo rse. Let a man throw a fit, he joins the macho category and collects a few more admirers.” Hema Raman is a lawyer. She said this a couple of years ago.

A recent study on workplace anger backs her observation: antagonistic men are admired, while women are seen as difficult to work with. Women who glare and shout in anger are liable to be considered “incompetent”. “Workplace anger is viewed differently”. The paper noted, “For a professional woman, anger expression may lead to a decrease rather than an increase in status” and quoted a politician’s remark that Hillary Clinton is “too angry to be elected president.” In an experiment, participants viewed a job interview and rated the angry female CEO as less competent than all the others.

Angry females were stamped as “out of control.” This had a direct result on salaries. On average, unemotional (looking) women were assigned a much higher wage packet compared to hot-under-the-necklace ones. Male candidates, regardless of their temper quotient, were recommended a fatter pay cheque.

The interesting part was when women gave reasons for irritability. Participants awarded them better salaries when anger was justified. But it was still less than what they gave the male executives. Were they aware of the bias in their attitudes? May be not, concluded the researcher.

“Absolutely there is a double standard,” said an office worker, not wishing to be named. “Women in responsible positions have to meet outrageous and arbitrary demands. Can they protest? Even anger that’s justified isn’t accepted. I see this in my performance review. Doesn’t it amount to “blaming the victim”?” Suppressing anger affects their health, another argued.

“You need a study for this?” asked an office assistant. “If a woman is tough and no-nonsense at work, she’s a you-know-what. If a man is tough and no-nonsense, he’s assertive.” So it isn’t lawyers alone who find it unfair. “For several years I worked in a male-dominated office,” said Tina. “It’s always been that way. You just overlook it and stay professional. You also learn to meditate, deep-breathe.” She said she was viewed as a drama queen because she got hysterical occasionally about things she found unbearable. Response? “I was talked down, asked to go back and complete the work.”

“I was treated with contempt for griping about men’s spoiled conduct when I pointed out their mistakes,” complained an office manager. “I am timid and expressed anger just once. My woman boss turned on me! She refused to discipline these guys for having tantrums and violating office rules! I have lost respect for the system.”

Mercurial temperament

Oh sure, there are female bosses who hop around as if stung by a bee, with temper on a short fuse, who demand mind-reading as a job requirement, expect all research work as soon as possible, concept reports before you can say MS word. And let’s admit some managers get away with tantrums because they are female. Grumblers are asked to “adjust”. Women tend to be emotional, you know. “I work with a mercurial boss. Any man who acted that irrationally, who screamed and berated subordinates would be dealt with sternly,” said an HR assistant.

Yeah, displays of anger are unwelcome - whether from men or women. Tolerance levels depend on rank and the person’s value to the organisation.

Another study, released around the same time takes the conclusion to another level: employees with temper problems are likely to be promoted, and rarely dealt with. The workplace tyrant actually gets rewarded.

Are you a spiteful supervisor, office authoritarian? You’re sure to rise up the ranks. “Several men in our department were prone to temper tantrums,” said a software project group member. “They were promoted promptly because they banged on the management’s desk and demanded it.”

Painful paradox

Can angry women get ahead then? Not till they resolve the painful paradox, said the study. Anger is a powerful tool to achieve status at work, but women may have to behave calmly in order to be seen as rational.

As Meena, an account expert, discovered, “I’ve rarely found women losing their temper at the workplace. Men seem to routinely express their anger. I think women tend to be more understanding and typically help calm down the situation. Men on the other hand more often use their sense of humour to diffuse explosive situations.”

How do women cope?

  • Don’t pick on the thorny subject. You’ll be dismissed with, “Oh, she’s in the complaint mode.”

  • Say what you have to and move on.

  • Never explode in a meeting. Bite your tongue. Listen.

  • Meet people individually or in smaller groups. Talk. It’s a coping mechanism.

  • Deal with things one by one. Be ready with solutions.

  • Be open to suggestions.


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