How to be an ally: Let her cry

“When women do weep at the office, it’s not because their feelings are hurt, as men assumed. It’s because they’re pissed off. They’re frustrated. They’re furious.”

-Joanne Lipman

I’ve cried twice in front of male superiors. 

Once when I was starting a job. 

Once when I was quitting. 

To their credit, these men were compassionate and patient and professional. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. 

Research shows that when women cry at work, men are most often “afraid.”

Fear of crying leads to useless feedback

From movies—“There’s no crying in baseball”—to music—“It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to”—women are stereotyped as the emotional ones. 

The prospect of a woman crying at work is both terrifying and annoying to their male bosses (as analyzed by the “Ask Men” Reddit subthread). 

Because they’re afraid of women crying, managers hold back their feedback—often giving the more constructive, more actionable advice to their male team members.

Harvard Business Review points this out as one of the “structural causes driving gender inequity in the workplace.” Feedback can be a critical component of employee growth, but leaders are holding back the most actionable feedback because they’re afraid they might make an employee cry. 

Stop worrying about hurting her feelings. 

It might help to know that, statistically, she’s not crying because she’s sad; she’s crying because she’s fed up.

When women cry, men panic

It’s not that male managers don’t want their team members to grow, there’s a biological barrier. According to the science:

  • Young women are 10 times more likely to cry at work than men over 45.
  • Men are unable to interpret the emotions of women when looking at their eyes alone. 
  • Crying women trigger men’s “fight or flight” mechanism. 

If you’re worried this might be you, Joanne Lipman recommends double-checking your employee reviews.

How does your feedback for males differ from feedback for females? Can you be more candid? Focus on leadership skills over gendered personality “flaws”?

Allies at work: Let her cry

There’s a silver lining to this dilemma.

Once you’re aware of and admit your own fear of women crying, you can move past it. 

So listen, ask open-ended questions, get to the root of her frustration, and then give her tough feedback that will allow her to succeed. 

Sometimes women cry at work. Sometimes men cry at work. 

Let them cry. 


%d bloggers like this: