Breedlove's Briefing: When Being Funny at Work Can Hurt Women

March 4 - Stephanie Breedlove

Hi! I’m Stephanie Breedlove, Co-Founder of HomePay, Author and Angel Investor.

I absolutely adore taking an idea and giving it life in the form a business, then leading it to its full potential. Nothing is more fun. (Seriously!) I’d love for every woman who wants to start her own business to say the same thing, so here I am, mentoring millennial entrepreneurs. When I’m not working, I like to recharge and head outdoors to hike, bike, or stand up paddle board!

Is that list of business news and trending articles you’ve tagged still unread? I get it. Allow me to help. Take a couple minutes to read my summary of articles serving the most pertinent, actionable business topics. Or, take 10 minutes to read the full article, and put another brick on the foundation of your growing career.

This Week’s Must-Read:

When Being Funny Can Hurt Women at Work

Who it’s for:

Every working woman.

Why it’s important:

It seems we have another obstacle, ladies. Knowledge is power for smart progress. A new study has identified another societal norm that needs modifying, but it's an easy one to tackle. According to the study, female leaders can apparently get dinged for being too funny on the job. If you're using humor to compensate in some way, focus this energy into a more productive space.

In a paper in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers from the University of Arizona and University of Colorado at Boulder tested how humor is viewed when it comes from male vs. female leaders giving a presentation. When a woman used humor, participants were more likely to view it as disruptive or distracting from the task at hand, while jokes cracked by men were more likely to be seen as functional or helpful.

The humorous men were described as having higher status than the men who played it straight, while the inverse happened with the women. Women's jokes were more likely to be viewed as making them seem less capable as leaders. Because humor can be interpreted as a good or bad thing on the job – helping to diffuse tension, say, or distracting from the real job at hand – the gender of the person affects how the jokes are viewed.

Humor is inherently an assertive and potentially combative form of communication, and if someone can successfully create humor as a rhetorical act, it can be powerful. Thus, women should not see the study as a message not to use humor in leadership positions, if they can use humor effectively: If a woman is in a board room of all male colleagues and she can make people laugh, she should do so.

The study highlights that there are societal perceptions and pitfalls with humor, and thus, it is important to know when humor works (or doesn’t). In a setting where you’re unknown to your audience – a sales presentation, a cold call, a job interview – women may want to roll out the laugh lines more cautiously. The standard advice from many popular authors is that adding humor to your presentation makes you more charismatic, and that can be misguided for women.

Top Take-Away/Final Thought: Humor is not a standard ‘go to’ strategy for being likeable or easy to work with. Like every strategy, it has pros and cons. Know them and use humor appropriately.

Want a deeper dive? You got it:

Gender and the Evaluation of Humor at Work

How Not to Offend Your Co-Workers and Lose Your Job

Nearly Three-Quarters of Executives Pick Proteges that Look Just Like Them

Women Rank Better Than Men at These Leadership Traits

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