Tag Archives: Lois Frankel

Trapped! Women and the smiling myth


Or why does no one write books about men not smiling enough?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post “10 ways women supposedly sabotage their careers“. It sparked some heated discussion. The 10 ways were lifted somewhat unceremoniously by Citibank’s Diversity Department, from the book Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois Frankel (sales of 27 million) and converted into dubious “bumper sticker” phrases to support women in the organisation (+/- 330.000 employees globally).

One seemed to attract more attention and curiosity than the others – women seemingly sabotage their careers by smiling inappropriately. This I thought merited closer inspection, because that’s a helluva lot of women believing they smile at the wrong time in the workplace. But what constitutes inappropriate?

Some basics
A spontaneous smile is defined as ” a facial expression formed by flexing those muscles most notably near both ends of the mouth. The smile can also be found around the eyes ..” known as the Duchenne Smile. A smile is deep within our primate nature. It depicts positive social relationships and confirms anthropologically that no harm is intended. Combined with eye contact a smile is perceived to be the sign of a confident person, but most importantly, it suggests energy and vibrancy to the recipient. How can that be damaging?

Some research
According to Daniel McNeill, author of The Face: A Natural History, women are genetically built to smile in order to bond with infants. “Smiling is innate and appears in infants almost from birth….The first smiles appear two to twelve hours after birth and seem void of content. Infants simply issue them, and they help parents bond.”

Although women apparently smile more than men, this statistic changes when other variables are factored in: culture, ethnicity, age, or when people think they are being observed, according to the study funded by the National Science Foundation.

It would be interesting for social psychologists and anthropologists to look at these data because the wide cultural, ethnic and other differences suggest that the sex difference is not something that is hard-wired,” said Marianne LaFrance, professor of psychology at Yale and senior author of the study published the journal psychological Bulletin. ” This is not a function of being male or female. Each culture overlays men and women with rules about appropriate behavior for men and women”

Minimal differences
The cultural variables were also interesting, with women in the United States and Canada smiling more than in other parts of the world, (England and Australia) African-American men and women smile equally, while there is indeed a gender difference amongst American Caucasians. They also noted that when occupying similar work, power and social roles, the gender differences in the rate of smiling disappears or is minimal. Here, LaFrance surmises that the sex differences are overridden by smile norms for the position one is in, rather than by gender.

Perceptions
As they rise up the career ladder, the rate at which women smile therefore is line with their male counterparts. This is why Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel and any other senior professional woman would conduct themselves correctly! The converse then should presumably apply and men working in service roles should be motivated to crank up their own smile levels a notch or two. Speaking from personal experience, I would suggest some French waiters or male railway personnel (Platform 5, East Croydon to London Victoria) might be a good target market for any future books on the appropriateness of the male smile.

Assigned roles
Research also shows that the facial expressions of men when stressed become fearful and angry, while the incidence with women is less. So in male dominated stressful business environments are we just conditioned to expect this type of reaction from our leaders than anything else? Do we simply expect our leaders to look fierce? Perhaps this is the reason why according to Management Today trust in CEOS increases when a woman is in charge in difficult times.

Imprecise vocabulary
What sort of situations would therefore merit accusations of smiling inappropriately, or is it simply poor word choice? Delivering bad or sensitive news with a wide grin perhaps? Smiling when anxious, more accurately called grimacing. A sarcastic smile – known as a smirk? As women are recognised as having superior qualities of empathy, then the same research would suggest that they are actually less likely to react inappropriately. LaFrance says women are more likely to smile to defuse tension doing what she calls ” emotion work” – but as creativity tends to go out of the window when tension exists why is this negative?

Trap 1
Perhaps the smiling quotient (and herein lies the first trap) is related to the fact that women have traditionally carried out service functions and men have been assigned ” warrior” roles. Their smiles are therefore perceived (no matter what they are achieving) as being an indication of deference , and therefore self sabotaging, in leadership roles. This myth is now even being perpetuated by women themselves.

Trap 2
What is even more worrying that countless women now believe that in order to succeed they must modify a key and instinctive part of their behaviour to conform to male norms over and above what they do naturally as their careers progress up the male hierarchy. That will lead to that age-old fall back of course, the second gender trap: accusations of PMS in the corner office.

If there is to be any levelling out of smiling ratios, the next slew of books should perhaps focus on men smiling more.

What do you think?

.

10 ways women supposedly sabotage their careers!

Citibank’s career advice for women! ( updated September 15th 2010)

My good friend Silvana Delatte sent me this link from Business Insider about a laminated sheet supposedly issued by the HR department of Citibank on how women sabotage their careers. If this is not a spoof (which I suspect it might be) then it makes interesting, if not incredible (as in unbelievable) reading.

Nowhere does it mention doing a bad job, so perhaps good performance isn’t necessary to advance a career in Citibank! This list would be infinitely less risible if the almost all male board had not been part of a group of testosterone driven mis- managers which brought global economies grinding to a halt. The subsequent government bail out was at great cost to the tax payer and impacted the lives of millions. Perhaps some of that money could be used to invest in constructive gender based management training, clearly sorely needed. I can make any number of excellent recommendations, so please contact me Citibank!

So let’s look at this list and analyse it!

  •  Women tend to speak softly – you are not heard. Anyone speaking softly isn’t heard, especially in the company of people who talk too much and don’t listen! Good managers listen! Being heard is also not about the volume of the voice but the pitch. Women could be advised to reduce the pitch of their voices by half a semi-tone.
  •  Women groom in public – it emphasizes your femininity, de-emphasizes your capability: Grooming in public is a no no – for anyone. That’s why companies have bathrooms!
  • Women sit demurely – the power position when seated at a table is forearms resting on a table and resting forward. Good posture in business meetings accompanied by positive body language and facial expressions with head tilted to one side, indicating engagement is a given. Nowhere, even in AskMen, have I seen any suggestions that leaning forward and appearing aggressive is a bonus.
  • Speak last in meetings – early speakers are seen as more assertive and knowledgeable than late speakers. Thinking before speaking and measured contribution is never to be under estimated. This is probably because the people who are making this judgement are poor listeners and have the attention span of pre-schoolers.
  • Women ask permission – children are taught to ask permission. Men don’t ask permission, they inform. I actually agree with this one. However polite deference is not to be confused with approval seeking and definitely preferable to arrogant bamboozling.
  •  Apologize – women apologize for the smallest error which erodes your self-confidence. Men tend to move into problem solving mode. I agree with this one too. But having said that for many the word “sorry” is missing from their vocabulary. Problem solving is not the same as admitting a mistake and dealing with it. Problem solving can be aka covering up. and /or reactive management.
  •  Women tend to smile inappropriately when delivering a message, therefore you are not getting taken seriously Well I did some quick research on this little gem and would be interested to see the metrics on that. Women do smile more than men, mainly to soften situations that is true. Smiling would only be inappropriate when delivering extremely bad news. I seriously doubt if a woman would do that unless she really disliked the person. Then she might well do.
  •  Play fair – women tend to be more naive. A women might assume the rules have to be obeyed whereas a man will figure out a way to stretch the rules and not be punished. So is the message here ladies, playing dirty is fine? May I suggest that stretching the rules was what got Citibank into its little pickle. There is surely no substitute for professional integrity. Besides the activities of the mascara mafia have been well documented. Women can and do play dirty, but target mainly other women.
  •  Being invisible – women tend to operate behind the scenes and end up handing credit over to the competitor. This is a fair point – women have to stop waiting for recognition and step up. But then whoever is stealing their thunder should have a little more professional integrity (see above). Good managers recognise and reward.
  • Offer a limp handshake – one good pump and a concise greeting combined with solid eye contact will do the trick. Agree with this too except this isn’t an arm wrestling contest. I would suggest that firm contact would be infinitely preferable to “one good pump” which implies a potential dislocated shoulder.

So ladies, what advice would you give the gentlemen of Citibank?

Apart from ” Do try not to bankrupt anyone today, darling.”

Written with a smile! Please see also follow up post “Trapped! Women and the Smiling Myth

September 15th 2010 -Update! An interesting post came across my screen today, which now makes some sense of the aforementioned problem-causing laminated sheet issued by Citibank. It isn’t a spoof , although it seemed that way. I was right to apply some cynicism.

Writing for The Thin Pink Line Blog, Lois Frankel says that this sheet has taken points from her book ” Nice girls don’t get the corner office ” completely out of context  and she tries to set the record straight in her post .

I did read the book some time ago and will have to revisit it. Condensed to bumper-sticker style homilies these points seem dated and Lois was right, taken at face value they don’t make a lot of sense, so they need to be evaluated in context, which I will certainly do. On her own admission the title including the term “nice” was forced upon her by her publisher. Some of the most successful people ( corner office holders) I know have been simply all around “nice” ( male and female).

That sheet certainly aroused a good discussion!