The recent uproar over Serena Williams’ behaviour during the US Open final has divided fans into two camps—those who believe she did not show sportsmanship, stealing the limelight from the deserving victor, 20-year-old Naomi Osaka; and those who say she touched on a sensitive issue, highlighting how women are penalized more than men, both on court and at work, for similar offences. And while Williams may not be entirely blameless for her role in the entire fracas, different standards for men and women at the workplace is an issue that should be debated.
In the corporate world, decorum at work is a stated virtue, but when things go wrong—unmet targets, lackadaisical response from the team—is calm behaviour expected only from women bosses? Do men who express their frustration get away by being labelled as passionate and dedicated while a woman boss is seen as an “angry feminist” having a meltdown? “This invisible barrier to the perceptions of women at the workplace causes stress in women as they are hesitant in demanding their due or protesting against unfairness. The biggest culprits are the women themselves as they judge other women too harshly for the same offence,” says Poornima Gupta, associate professor, human resource management and organizational behaviour, Great Lakes Institute of Management, Gurugram.
A 2008 study titled “Can An Angry Woman Get Ahead” by Victoria L. Brescoll and Eric Luis Uhlmann, found that due to strong, deeply entrenched stereotypes, people attribute a man’s anger as a response to objective, external circumstances, and a woman’s anger as a product of her personality. “Subsequently, a woman showing anger at workplace is seen as immature or less competent, whereas men who fly off the handle are given higher status and respect,” explains Prof. Gupta.
The outspoken, emotional woman is considered a bit of an aberration even in the corporate world. She is thought of as being temperamental, making it difficult for women sometimes to express themselves without feeling inhibited.