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More on The Bully Broad Syndrome

Posted by: Michelle Conlin on July 30, 2007

Rage Picture.bmp
Comes now yet another study on professional women and the fiery demon. I’ve taken an interest in the subject ever since my exploration of the “bully broad” phenom in Silicon Valley during the dotcom boom.

The findings confirm the extant research: venom-venting among professional women is judged negatively, whereas men win status and admiration when they do the same.

The study, by Victoria Brescoll of Yale University, will be presented at the Academy of Management confab in Philadelphia next week. Study participants watched videos of men and women enacting different roles and emotional scripts in the workplace. “Participants rated the angry female CEO as significantly less competent than all of the other targets, including even the angry female trainee. They viewed “angry female targets as significantly more ‘out of control’ than the angry male targets and unemotional male and female targets.”

Oh, and there’s a big pay dock too. The unemotional female candidates were paid an average of $55,384, compared to $32,902 for the angry ones. Male executives were paid more than trainees regardless of their emotional expression, an average of $73,643 versus $36,810.

Dr. Brescoll’s paper concluded that: “Women, like men, have the same need to achieve status and power. At the same time, to achieve and maintain high social status, professional women may also have to behave unemotionally in order to be seen as rational. Thus, it is important to identify strategies that professional women can use
to express anger without incurring a social penalty.”


Reader Comments


July 31, 2007 9:21 AM

I can't say that I'm very surprised by this. After all, in the 1980s, the persona of the tough as nails, supremely demanding male boss who's main mode of governance was through intimidation and total control of the office was almost glamorized. Think of Gordon Gekko and the real life CEOs and financeers on which he was based.

By contrast, a tough as nails, supremely demanding female boss was always portrayed as a emotional wreck out of control. When we take pop culture that has now become a societal stereotype, it's no wonder that there's a double standard when it comes to venom-venting in the workplace.

Robert Sullivan

August 3, 2007 10:13 AM

Ms. Brescoll's conclusion may well be correct, but her study offers weak proof. To have any faith in the outcome, I need to know that the actors in the film clips were totally unbiased - that they had no preference for either outcome. Otherwise, the experiment cannot control for the effects of all of the other non-verbal, and even unconscious, signals sent out by the subjects. In this case, if the angry female subject wanted to have the study find bias, there are all sorts of ways that she could use body language and other non-verbal cues to make herself unlikable. If the angry male subject was similarly motivated, he could counter his angry words with contrary signals. This flaw shows up regularly in various studies of racial or gender bias. The classic is the rental bias study, in which otherwise identical black and white couples apply (in person) for an apartment. This "test" is repeated regularly, and the press obligingly announces that landlords are still biased. As often as not, the test role-players are drawn from organizations whose stated purpose is to "fight bias". That purpose may be noble, but their method is biased.


August 3, 2007 12:25 PM

Excellent points, Robert.

Victoria Brescoll

August 3, 2007 1:49 PM

Hi--I'm the author of this study and I think that it got slightly misdescribed in the media. The videotapes of the male and female targets were completely identical except for when at the end they said they were angry (or sad--or expressed no emotion). I ensured this by digitally splicing the tapes together so that they were completely identical except for this one feature.
Also, the "targets" in the videotapes had no idea what the study was about (i.e., they were blind to the hypotheses) so they couldn't have tried to elicit any response from the participants who later watched the tapes and judged them.
Hope that clears things up!
-Victoria Brescoll
Yale University

Robert Sullivan

August 3, 2007 2:12 PM

Thank you for the clarification. I wish all research was done so professionally.

Mark Stuart

November 1, 2007 9:44 AM

Surely that methodology renders the results of very little use in showing real life perceptions?

The article implied that the interviewees showed anger/sadness. But they didn't - they simply stated what their emotional state was at the end. So a totally unreal scenario - no body language or tone for the study participants to read - which removes 90% of the communication cues (70% body language, 20% tone, 10% words used) - so the study's conclusions are unrepresentative of real life interview situations where consistency & genuineness of the non-verbal communication would make an enormous difference to the participants' perceptions.


August 20, 2008 5:16 AM

Hi Victoria,

I'm a freelance journalist/documentary maker from Belgium.Could you tell me where I can find a copy of your research? Thx


Ron Duncan

February 19, 2010 11:08 AM

It would seem that many women are taking this issue as another assault on feminism. Bullying is common however in the workplace no matter whether you are male or female. Is there a difference in how you approach the bullying female as opposed to the bullying male is what should be and is being examined. Though I'm sure that next someone will scream racism, but I'm currently studying a cultural subtext in bullying among Hispanic females. As the Hispanic culture becomes more and more established in the USA, the normally fiery nature of the Latin female can be especially intimadating among both males and females.

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