Apparently, it’s only okay for men to be funny in the workplace

Photo of men looking at woman making a silly face. She looks serious. Both in professional attire, at work.

What is the easiest way to make people like you? To make people listen to you? There are many answers to these questions, but most people would agree that humor can be a valuable card. However, a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology shows that “being funny” can be more helpful to some than others.

While men can use humor freely in their business presentations or interactions with co-workers, the study found that being funny can harm women at work. 

“When women add the same humor to the same presentation, people view them as having lower levels of status, rate their performance as lower, and consider them less capable as leaders,” said researchers Johnathan Evans, Jerel Slaughter, Aleksander Ellis, and Jessi Rivin to the Harvard Business Review.

The researchers carefully considered common gender stereotypes that reflect how men and women are perceived in professional situations. They looked at humor through two different perspectives, “a tool to facilitate work by lightening the mood” and “a distraction from the serious nature of work.” In the end, they found that the former tends to apply to men and the latter to women. The investigation concluded that even when women expressed humor successfully, they were seen as less capable leaders.

This study makes me think about how gender inequality goes far beyond the numbers and the “glass ceilings.” Even if we are breaking ceilings and bridging gaps, our behavior is still subject to constant scrutiny and surveillance. We have to measure every word, every action. 

When advocating for gender equality, we can’t focus only on numbers and statistics. We can’t focus only on the “finish line.” We need to make sure that the path to success is equal as well, even in small things. How do we do that? Well, the study does provide us with some illumination. Researchers concluded that raising awareness of gender stereotypes reduces implicit bias.