Big Girls Do Cry

Written by Nikki White, Recruitment Coordinator at Big Sister Association


On May 3, I attended the Ad Club’s Women’s Leadership Forum, a day of presentations by women leaders from a variety of career paths and generations. It was an inspirational event where women came together to share best practices and advice as leaders. There was one moment, however, that was unsettling for me. One speaker was introduced by her former supervisor who said that she would often come into his office and cry. He instructed this senior executive not to cry at work anymore. When she got to the stage, she praised his advice and said that after that she never cried at work again. Hearing this got me thinking—have women really become fully accepted in the workplace? Or are we still living in the world of Peggy and Megan in Mad Mena world where men dictate to us how we, as women, are supposed to express our feelings?

It is hard to navigate our role as women in a work environment that seems to constantly give us contradicting viewpoints. We are expected to be nurturers at home but at the same time we are seen as weak or incompetent if we embody the same feminine qualities at work. Victoria Brescoll, a researcher at Yale, found in her 2007 study of male and female roles in the workplace that men are more likely to be respected when they express anger, but women who express anger in the workplace are seen as overly emotional. The benefit of integrating women in the workplace over the last 40 years is that we bring diversity to the work: diversity in our opinions, how we strategize, and how we approach problems or tasks. So why let others dictate or squash the diversity we bring—emotion-filled or not? We should not be demonstrating to future women leaders that the only way to be a part of the workforce (which is now split almost equally between men and women) is to accept the 1960s ideas of women’s role in the workplace.

What I would say to any woman who feels like she can’t cry in the workplace is that it is your choice how you want to show your emotions. If you feel that crying makes you appear too weak, I’d say crying is a reaction to an emotional experience, just like laughing. Embrace your wholeness so that others can too. Be proud that you feel and you care—it is a strength, not an impediment.

Do you think it is ever appropriate to cry at work?

Do you believe there is a double standard when it comes to men and women expressing emotion at work?

Posted on May 14, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I Love this article because most people focus only on women’s role in the work place or at home and fail to tie the two together. It’s important that both are discussed because some women sometimes struggle to balance both.

    I think it’s okay to cry at work, I just don’t cry infront of people (lol). When I can’t control my emotions, I just go to the bathroom but i still feel guilty for crying because I do come of as a “strong” person at work.

    – Nana

  2. Crying is an emotion that makes MOST people uncomfortable–including women. If I ever feel the need to cry at work, then I do it in the privacy of my office or the bathroom, but never in front of anyone (mostly because I hate the pity, it makes me MORE emotional!).
    This post makes me think of that scene in Sex in the City when Samantha is interviewing for the job and the client says he wont hire her because she’s slept with someone on his team–oh hey ANOTHER double standard. Anyway, she keeps it together until she’s in the elevator and away from the guy, then cries. I feel like this is the most appropriate thing to do. I don’t think having emotions is something to be ashamed of nor do I think it makes you look weak, but I do think that making others uncomfortable is something that we should always try to avoid. But then again that’s another “feminine” attribute: wanting to make others comfortable even if it means that you are uncomfortable (holding back tears).

  3. I loved this article- especially this line:
    “Hearing this got me thinking—have women really become fully accepted in the workplace? Or are we still living in the world of Peggy and Megan in Mad Men—a world where men dictate to us how we, as women, are supposed to express our feelings?”

    I think it’s interesting how women are always fighting for “equality” with men in the workplace and that it is automatically translated into trying to behave more like men. Being treated equally in terms of pay and respect should still be a possibility while at the same time embracing and fostering all the different positive attributes that come with being men and women (or being socialized into men and women).

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