Last week after this article from Jezebel.com about Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book “Lean In”… a debate ensued about being ‘emotional at work’ and as Sheryl suggested, ‘emotions build bonding relationships’ but the question posed on Facebook became :
“Is crying ok at work ?”
What was most striking to me in the book was Sandberg’s chapter on being emotional at the office, sharing stories of when she cried in front of her coworkers. And she believes it’s OK because “sharing emotions builds deeper relationships” and places an importance on striving for “authenticity over perfection,” adding that “maybe the compassion and sensitivity that have historically held some women back will make them more natural leaders in the future.” As someone who’s a cryer—it’s an uncontrollable physical response to emotions like anger and frustration—I found this really powerful and in contrast to everything I’d ever thought about tears at work. For example, when it’s happened to someone as powerful as Hillary Clinton, it seemed to undermine her. She was accused of either being weak or just playing her girlie emotional card to get out of a bad situation…” Excerpt from the article by Tracie Egan Morrissey.
There was a very visceral response! A beefy debate ensued with passionate arguments from both sides. People were VERY clear on their opinions.
I suppose there is a direct link to our tolerance to weakness and what that represents, particularly in business.
Why do we abhor weakness?
It begins so early. I think there is a direct link between our comparative nature and our need to be ‘better’ (I have yet to be able to define what ‘better’ actually is).
It leads to bullying in childhood (and beyond), lack of tolerance for differences and a continual segregation of the ‘them vs us’.
Of course there is no simple answer. Some would argue this is merely ‘survival of the fittest’…nature’s way of weaning. But I can’t help but wonder if we reframed our notions about WEAKNESS would we have a more compassionate, tolerant and inclusive society and wouldn’t that indeed BE BETTER?
So the question then becomes:
Why do we equate weakness with women?
I suspect this is why women have not yet cracked the Glass Ceiling. We still see women as typically weak and emotional (again – assuming negative connotation) and therefore ill qualified to be represented in the boardroom.
A recent report called Women Matter 2010 found that companies with a higher proportion of women in their executive committees are also the companies that have the best performance. 
Firms with women investment partners are 70 percent more likely to lead an investment in a woman entrepreneur than those with only male partners. 
The high-tech companies that women build are more capital- efficient than the norm. 
Despite often being capital-constrained, women-owned businesses are more likely to survive the transition from raw start-up to established company than the average company. 
Organizations that are the most inclusive of women in top management achieve 35 percent higher returns on equity and 34 percent better total return to shareholders versus their peers. Research shows that gender diversity is particularly valuable where innovation is a key asset. 
Women currently hold 2.8 percent of Fortune 500 CEO roles and 3.3 percent of Fortune 1000 CEO roles. 
Overall, Women in Business in 2010 only included 7.6 percent of Fortune 500 top earners, 51.5 percent of management, professional, and related occupations, and 46.7 percent of the U.S. labor force. 
(stats from Women Moving Millions)
One of my favorite tv shows is Celebrity Apprentice and I MARVEL at how many of the All Star players (both male and female) immediately assimilate into the ‘Dog Eat Dog’ Trump mentality while competing, and lie and manipulate to win (in the name of charity so of course that’s ok). This notion of winning at any cost is so Machiavellian. I used to face this when I negotiated Real Estate transactions. Some would come ready to do battle but I usually found a way to redirect the negotiation into a win/win for everyone. Winning at any cost isn’t winning at all in my opinion and bullying to win is how I would define weakness. Using the power of persuasion with the overall intent of higher purpose is possible although we all know people who’ve gotten ahead not playing by the rules.
Bottom line: We are all human beings and emotion is a natural part of the experience. Being emotional does not equate to weakness…. and weakness is not innately bad or wrong….it just is. We need to expand our thinking and re-imagine how business can be done incorporating both masculine and feminine traits for a richer vision and experience in every board room and family room.