Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Are Women Being Held Back by Too Much Smiling?

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Are Women Being Held Back by Too Much Smiling?

Article excerpt

Byline: Sarah Sands

IF YOUNG women are to rise up the professional pecking order they need a push, because it is not happening naturally. At a discussion day held at the American Embassy last week, women business leaders argued for more self-assertion. It is unjust that toughness and self-confidence are regarded as male virtues.

One female boss said it had taken her a long time to realise that being liked is not the most important thing. Indeed, seeking popularity makes you a bad leader.

An expression of women's professional weakness turns out to be the smile. Women smile too easily and often. It becomes expected of them. A senior lawyer at the session remembered a man turning to her at the end of a meeting and asking her why she was not smiling. She replied: "Why should I be smiling? None of the men are smiling." He apologised.

The previous evening, at a dinner for the CEO of Harvey Nichols, Stacey Cartwright, I met a business coach who preps women for new jobs or "transitions". She said her two main tips were no smiling, no cardigans. Both ideas had soft, yielding implications. A jacket gives you structure, an impassive face gives you a certain sense of authority.

Since then I have kept a mental weather chart of how much women colleagues smile compared with male ones. It is true that women passing each other in the office are much more likely to smile.

It also happens that women smile as they talk, their delivery comes with a smile.

Our discussion group last week toyed with a pledge against "soft sexism" on the grounds that challenging use of body and vocal language can change the culture, whereas other forms of discrimination require legislation or money or long-term planning.

A couple of women had been at an event during which a television journalist had repeatedly referred to his colleague during a discussion as a "silly woman". …

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