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Workplace anger -- who wins?

  • Story Highlights
  • Study: Angry men rewarded, angry women penalized
  • Unemotional women "deserved" higher pay than angry women
  • If good reason noted, then anger OK for women
  • Men, women surveyed had similar reactions to angry women
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NEW YORK (Reuters) -- A man who gets angry at work may well be admired for it but a woman who shows anger in the workplace is liable to be seen as "out of control" and incompetent, according to a new study presented Friday.

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What's more, the finding may have implications for Hillary Clinton as she attempts to become the first female U.S. president, according to its author Victoria Brescoll, a post-doctoral scholar at Yale University.

Her research paper "When Can Angry Women Get Ahead?" noted that Clinton was described last year by a leading Republican as "too angry to be elected president."

Previous research has indicated that anger can communicate that an individual feels entitled to dominate others, and therefore perhaps is. But Brescoll said such studies focused on men.

"As Senator Clinton's experience suggests, however, for a professional woman anger expression may lead to a decrease rather than an increase in her status," Brescoll wrote.

She conducted three tests in which men and women recruited randomly watched videos of a job interview and were asked to rate the applicant's status and assign them a salary.

In the first, the scripts were identical except where the candidate described feeling either angry or sad about losing an account due to a colleague's late arrival at a meeting.

Participants conferred the most status on the man who said he was angry, the second most on the woman who said she was sad, slightly less on the man who said he was sad, and least of all by a sizable margin on the woman who said she was angry.

Salary gap

The average salary assigned to the angry man was almost $38,000 compared to about $23,500 for the angry woman and in the region of $30,000 for the other two candidates.

In a second experiment, the script was similar except that the job applicant also described his or her current occupation as a trainee or a senior executive.

"Participants rated the angry female CEO as significantly less competent than all of the other targets, including even the angry female trainee," Brescoll wrote. She said they viewed angry females as significantly more "out of control."

That impacted salaries. Unemotional women were assigned on average $55,384 compared to $32,902 for the angry ones. Male executive candidates were assigned more than trainees, regardless of anger, with an average $73,643.

A third experiment tested whether a good reason for anger made any difference. The script was changed so that some angry candidates explained that the co-worker who arrived late had lied beforehand, indicating he had directions to the meeting.

Sure enough, the angry woman with a good reason to be angry was awarded a much higher salary than the angry woman who provided no excuse, though it was still less than the men.

The study, to be presented this weekend at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management, a research and teaching organization with nearly 17,000 members, found similar attitudes to anger among male and female participants.

"It's an attitude that is not conscious," Brescoll said. "People are hardly aware of it."

Brescoll said the findings revealed a "difficult paradox" for professional women -- while anger can serve as a powerful tool to achieve status at work, women may have to behave calmly in order to be seen as rational. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2007 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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