Erin Costelloe

Science: Women Who Frown Set to Get Ahead in Life

It’s official. The artificial smile we tattoo upon our faces for work does nothing but press women against the glass ceiling.


Life is hard for women. Harder still for women who work. As if it wasn’t bad enough being almost guaranteed lower pay than your male counterparts from the word “go,” you’re going to have to work twice as hard as the dude bros in your office if you have any hope of climbing the employment ladder.

You sure as hell better not look too pleased with your work life either, or else face an eternity trapped below the cursed glass ceiling.

Researchers from Munich’s Technische Universität have conducted a range of studies designed to test how leaders in business and academia are assessed and chosen. In it they found that employers typically value characteristics such as assertiveness and dominance, therein holding a subconscious bias against female candidates who are seen as “friendly and sociable.”

The solution? Well, naturally, women are to blame for this bias and should “challenge the stereotype” by appearing proud, rather than cheerful, a sure sign of a willingness to lead. Presenting their findings, the researchers reported that male and female managers who behaved exactly the same way were assessed differently, which no doubt shocked nobody in the audience.

In the fictional scenarios, people expected employees to perform better if there was a man in charge of organizing how the work was conducted than if a woman took the helm. In scenarios where managers gave their employees varying levels of freedom to make their own decisions and manifest destiny, however, female participants were found to be biased against managers of the same gender.

While both sexes were in favor of bosses who delegated more power, women were far more scathing of their female bosses who made all their decisions solo than men who behaved in the exact same way.

The study was led by Professor Isabell Welpe who explained that there are “stereotypes that on a subconscious level play a decisive role in the assessment of high achievers. Leaders should be assertive, dominant and hard-lined; women are seen as mediators, friendly, social. There is still the belief that men in leadership positions show more assertiveness towards their staff.”

Welpe, understandably, expressed surprise that those stereotypes were more reinforced in the minds of women themselves, particularly in their tendency to accept a more dominant leadership style from men. The study found that women have a disadvantage because they are perceived as less interested in management roles and should therefore look much less happy in their existence.

“Women who looked cheerful were judged as less willing to lead. Pride, on the other hand, is positively associated with leadership qualities.”

Sure enough, the study – conducted by describing scenarios where men and women were portrayed as being either cheerful of proud of their work or as showing no emotion whatsoever, then asking participants how willing they believe the subject would be to become a leader – found a greater discrepancy between female candidates than male ones.

Cheerful women, of course, came out on the bottom.

The keys to employment success: First and foremost, don’t be a woman. If you absolutely must do that, avoid at all costs looking happy.

Not content with letting women reach their career goals by way of emotional turnaround alone, those few women who do manage to break the glass ceiling will inadvertently bury any female peers below them in the debris. Once a woman does manage to snag a top level job, they may end up preventing others from joining them, especially if their organization is generally biased against women.

Some put this down to a “queen bee” effect; others, such as a study by psychologists from the Netherlands’ Leiden University, find that this may be due to high-ranking women working in sexist environments acting “more like men” and distancing themselves from their female colleagues.

No points for guessing that women feel more willing to help other female employees advance when working for less biased organizations.

So, there you have it; the keys to employment success: First and foremost, don’t be a woman. If you absolutely must do that, avoid at all costs looking happy. Finally, make sure you encourage your employer’s antiquated ideas about the gender wars by proverbially dumping all over your colleagues who foolishly choose to make the same biological choices that you did.

Or we could maybe do something about stamping out sexism in the workplace and the insidious way misogyny can impact even those on the receiving end.

Though, maybe, that’s just a thought bubble.




Erin Costelloe

Erin Costelloe is an avid lover of Australian wildlife. She studied science and education to help teach the next generation the importance of our conservation to safeguard our unique landscape.

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