Should you tar and feather him? Should you ignore him? Should you be curious and read what I have to say … and maybe even follow me?
As an investor in Innovation Women — a company focused on empowering women and making them more visible, I wanted the brand of the company to not just surface and repair gender inequity but also be fun. During a brain storming session about our brand, I suggested that the brand of the company should show how women in business can be fun and funny. I was somewhat taken aback by some women leaders within the company cautioning about bias against funny and assertive women.
Unfortunately, there is such a bias and it is well documented. This paper in the American Psychological Association suggests that humor by women in presentations across multiple industries is punished. This study in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that funny women are not promoted! Performance review for men and women show remarkably clearly that assertiveness by women is viewed negatively.
On deeper consideration we asked — if men are setting the rules, should women play? Should our brand be beholden or overturn this nonsense? Should anyone play at a game where the rules have been set against them? Does the house not always win? Is it not time for women to refuse to play stacked odds and instead change the game?
Funny is fine: As a follower of stand up comedy and humor in various forms as performed by both men and women, and as the husband of a power babe with a finely timed sense of humor, I find both the idea that women cannot be funny or that they are less likable if they are, to be completely ridiculous. If you read Tina Fey’s Bossypants or see Whitney Cummings’ latest special on Netflix where she talks about #MeToo and how men are evolving you too will see undeniably the humor and the invaluable new world perspectives they bring us. Any professional or other environment where this is unwelcome is antediluvian!
Also, having managed any number of professional and life scenarios, I know first hand (and most people will agree) that contextual humor (as opposed to teasing or targeted humor) coming from any quarter — male or female — alleviates and makes things easier.
Assertiveness is not actually good: Reality is that neither gender likes assertive people of either gender. Assertions in today’s world are accomplished with tact, diplomacy and consensus building rather than by thumping any tables. This applies to either gender. Rarely is anything of import accomplished by merely being demanding. However, the problem of male custodians of opportunity unreasonably excluding women from opportunities because of a more than demure voice is deplorable and needs to be set right. This will not change by pointing the issue out though. Something else is required.
Power, Opportunity & Access: The game really all boils down to opportunity and who disburses it. Unfortunately, neither gender will be given any opportunities if the custodian of the opportunity does not like the seeker of opportunity. Assertiveness definitely does not really work in the land of high stakes opportunities for either gender. Careful opportunism does! There is a difference. Being funny could cause preset notions to make a custodian of opportunity to look for other worthies.
Change the game NOW: Currently, in the throes and aftermath of #MeToo, many men are off balance. This is an excellent opportunity! Strike while the testosterone is uncertain!
- Women should stop playing at the game that men set up for themselves and instead define their own more authentic set of rules and values. Stop worrying about playing to men’s biases and instead create and share your own world as fun leaders. Read why professors at Stanford think funny leaders are better leaders!
- Be funny, be personable, be relatable (and yes that does mean understanding men’s fears and triggers) and include men in your fun when THEY qualify! Don’t target anyone with humor. If you read the room and try to be contextual and appropriate with humor, it is difficult for anyone to take issue.
- Women should definitely stop subscribing to the same biases against women that men do! This does not help our cause and certainly does not allow culture to change for the better.
- Take what you want and deserve … with charm offensives. The definition of charm is that it is difficult to deny. Find and use a style of charm that is not gender related … such as humor. Notice that these 10 characteristics of charming leaders are devoid of gender.
- Everyone loves an underdog and the male ego as a mentor and ally is generous. Play fair with it and win life long supporters. Here are some very public moments of men being allies.
Tell the off balance men exactly what you are doing. Many of the evolved ones will understand, and even choose to play with! Some of them will stick to their guns. That is OK … the balance of power would have already shifted!
Finally, here is an acclaimed female Maori Haka performer. As a challenge, I ask men and women alike: is she assertive? fun? a leader?