Anger in the Workplace Men vs. Women: Unequal rage?

Eric Uhlmann, Professor of Management and Human Resources - March 15th, 2011
angry woman screaming, anger in the workplace

What if Segolene Royal lost the 2007 presidential election simply because she lost her temper with Nicolas Sarkozy during their debates—while Sarkozy simultaneously benefited from his outbursts? Research by Eric Luis Uhlmann and Victoria Brescoll shows that women and men are in fact far from equal when it comes to expressing anger in the workplace. 

Eric Uhlmann ©HEC Paris

Eric Uhlmann was professor of human resources and management at HEC between 2013 and 2014. He studied social psychology at the University of Washington then at Yale University, (...)

See CV

Eric Luis Uhlmann and Victoria Brescoll's research article starts with an anecdote. In 2006, the chairman of the U.S. Republican National Committee, Adam Nagourney, declared on American television that Hillary Clinton was “too angry to be elected president.” The media had a field day with this comment. Journalist Maureen Dowd wrote in the New York Times that Clinton was being cast in the role of “the Angry Woman,” adding, “The gambit handcuffs Hillary: If she doesn't speak out strongly against President Bush, she's timid and girlie. If she does, she's a witch and a shrew.” While politicians have always maligned their opponents, this particular case raises questions about the ability of a woman who has displayed anger to win an election ... or to get ahead at work. 


Citing earlier research, Uhlmann and Brescoll show that for reasons including deeply entrenched stereotypes, there is a real difference between men and women when it comes to expressing anger. Indeed, studies have established that men who express anger at work sometimes benefit from doing so, as co-workers subsequently perceive the mas more important, powerful, and independent. However, when women lose their cool, they do not benefit from such positive consequences 


“People ... view a man’s anger as a response to objective, external circumstances, but a woman’s  anger as a product of her personality,” say Uhlmann and Brescoll. “As a result, a professional woman’s angermay imply that she is not competent at dealing with workplace situations.” According to the figures from various studies*, this leads to lesser responsibilities and lower salaries A woman’s risk of losing professional respect is all the greater because of a tendency to consider women’s behavior as linked to personality, particularly when she is seen as “out of control”. The only thing that can diminish the negative impact of a woman’s display of anger is an explanation related to external elements, such as a frustrating situation. “For men, it seems to be advantageous to get angry without providing justification,” explains Uhlmann. Men who fly off the handle without explaining why are more highly regarded, better paid, and seen as more competent than both men who show no emotion and those who attempt to explain their anger. 

article 18 average wages  - eng


While these results suggest a clear tactic for men— get angry without providing any justification—things are not so simple for women. Indeed, while anger can be useful in certain situations (i.e., to get others to acknowledge responsibility or to reprimand incompetence), Madeleine Albright explains in Madam Secretary: A Memoir** that if women want to climb the social ladder and stay there, they must remain cool and dispassionate in order to appear rational. “We can neither advise women to get angry, because that can have a negative impact, nor never to do so, because it can also be useful in certain situations,” Uhlmann comments. He recommends women abide by a strict policy: try never to let emotions show, and provide a situation-related explanation if ever you do lose your temper. 


Uhlmann and Brescoll nevertheless admit that this advice does not necessarily apply to situations “other than job interviews and giving first impressions.” In addition, anger/character assumptions are likely to be weak or even nonexistent when coworkers know each other well. Furthermore, the study sample is made up of 85%white Americans, which is not ideal. “Negative emotions might be more successful in France than in the United States,” Uhlmann comments. In fact, he and his students have just started a research project on differences in workplace behavior between France and the United States. Uhlmann stresses that culture plays a decisive role in behavior. “In Latin America, for example, anger is perceived as positively in women as in men.” This summer, Uhlmann plans to extend his study to China, where “anger is much less acceptable in the professional context.” These lines of research promise useful insight for companies dealing with multicultural teams. 

* See “Anger and Advancement versus Sadness and Subjugation: The Effect of Negative Emotion Expressions on Social Status Conferral” by Larissa Tiedens, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2001.

 ** published by Hyperion, 2003.

Based on an interview with Eric Luis Uhlmann and the article “Can an Angry Woman Get Ahead? Status Conferral, Gender, and Expression of Emotion in the Workplace” co-authored with Victoria Brescoll, Psychological Science , Vol.19, No. 3, pp. 268-275, March 2008. 


Uhlmann and Brescoll's research suggests precise courses of action for both men and women when anger enters into a professional discussion.

• Women should try not to betray emotion, and if they do, they should provide an explanation for their behavior that is tied not to their personality but to the situation.

• When men’s anger appears justified and is not expressed excessively, it is almost systematically useful for climbing the social ladder. Men should not even attempt to explain their anger! 


Eric Luis Uhlmann and Victoria Brescoll studied the reactions of nearly 400 American adults, including 60% women, to videos where actors (men and women) reacted in different ways during a job interview. They carried out three experiments:

• An experiment to determine whether participants had less respect for an angry woman than an angry man.

• An experiment to evaluate general levels of respect for people (men and women) who express anger.

• An experiment to determine whether a woman who explains why she became angry is granted similar status to a man who has lost his temper