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When Women Cry at Work - A Show of Human Emotion or a Sign of Weakness?

Why Crying at Work Can Hurt Your Career

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Comforting a colleague
Paula Connelly/E+/Getty Images
Updated June 12, 2014
It's a "thou shalt not" rule carved in stone that every woman carries in her heart: You can't cry at work if you expect to be taken seriously and advance your career. In the game of life, the act of shedding tears is akin to drawing the 'Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200' card in Monopoly.

This belief has been so thoroughly drummed into us that we won't even risk crying in the ladies room, in our office with the door shut, in a janitor's closet, or anywhere in the building where we work. (I myself have snuck out to the parking lot, driven my car to a nearby strip mall, and bawled my eyes out to avoid any chance of being seen by a co-worker.)

But is it ever okay to cry? Is there ever a situation in which crying might actually be beneficial?

Cry and You're Outta Here

In the New York Times, Stephanie Rosenbloom cites the reaction of one well-known uberwoman to an underling driven to tears:

...consider a recent episode of NBC's "Apprentice: Martha Stewart," in which a young woman whose team had just lost a flower-selling contest told Ms. Stewart that she felt like crying. Her admission elicited no sympathy from her prospective employer, only blunt career advice.

"Cry and you are out of here," Ms. Stewart said. "Women in business don't cry, my dear."

Crying Considered Taboo

In Through the Labyrinth: The Truth About How Women Become Leaders, Alice H. Eagly and Linda L. Carli point out that when it comes to showing emotion, the more male-dominated the field, the greater the damage:
...people scrutinize women's behavior in very masculine environments, searching for any weakness....Given the demands of masculine environments, emotional displays can suggest weakness, and women are advised to avoid crying when upset. For example, professional development advice offered to women engineers made this point: "While crying is expected for extreme situations (i.e. breaking an arm, or a death in the family), it is considered taboo for professional women in response to normal work situations....nothing reinforces the negative stereotype of women being ruled by emotions rather than professionalism like a crying woman professional."

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