* Women, Business & Smiling

I was fascinated, shocked and angered by an article recently published on AOL News: Women at Work Should Smile Less to Earn More


     Just the title of the article offended me. My inner radar spun around in circles as my logical mind grasped for understanding. Was this some insidious propaganda to defeminize women?  A ploy to solidify in our business culture a distaste for the positive and natural tendencies of women? As a professional who has worked in the corporate sector for many years, striving for success, smiling all the way, I felt as if this were a cultural threat. So, if I smile too much, even if I accomplish lofty goals, use talent and ingenuity to help the company to profit, and am a strong team-player, I don’t earn as much as my peer, Bill?  Is THIS the reason women get paid less than men for the same job? Because we smile too much?  What about men? Should they smile less to earn more, too?

     I felt chagrin as I dove into the article. “In this tough economy, employers don't want women employees lacking in confidence   . . . in many cultures, including American, smiling is a sign of surrender, not strength -- nevermind power.”  Wow!  Nothing makes me frown faster than the devaluation or misinterpretation of a positive expression.  

      But I literally sneered as I read, “This is still a patriarchal culture and it's expected that women will know their place by smiling when entering a room, a meeting, a new situation. But then allow that smile to slide into an attentive facial expression which communicates high engagement in what's going on.” 

     It’s expected that women will know their place?!  Engagement in what’s going on?  What?!  Isn’t this the 21st Century?  Women are dominating the work force right now! I had to double check that I wasn’t reading an excerpt from Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette published in 1952! 

     Do men feel so destabilized by a woman’s smile that they demerit her when she uses it?  Why don’t they appreciate a smile for what it is – an expression of goodwill, cooperation, approval, appreciation, joy, goodness and confidence. Yes, confidence!  And people with confidence in their professional skills and in themselves smile a lot and are excellent employees who deserve good earnings.

     I investigated the topic of smiling a little further and found an article in Science Daily called, Women Smile More Than Men. It features findings from a study conducted by Marianne LaFrance for the National Science Foundation, who determined that, “Women do smile more than men, but when occupying similar work and social roles, the gender differences in the rate of smiling disappear.” 

     That makes sense to me. Who smiles while strategizing the next quarter’s business plan, discussing budgets or dealing with personnel issues?  Neither women nor men. Should anyone of any gender smile inappropriately during such times, they would not look powerful, but rather insane, and don’t deserve high earnings. 

     LaFrance’s study also revealed a gold nugget: “When there is tension in the air, women more often than men try to diffuse it with a smile. Women do what we call 'emotion work' and one of the best ways to do this is to smile to soothe hurt feelings, to restore harmony."  

 (See the full article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/03/030319080920.htm)

      Well, finally. The smile gets some credit in the business world, and it makes sense that a woman’s smile has that kind of healing power.  Women, as emotional and intuitive beings, use their smiles  in a number of powerful and positive ways, both in and out of the conference room:  to restore harmony, invoke camaraderie, offer encouragement, create a positive environment, rally cooperation and so many more.  Smiling should be considered a very valuable service to a company, and if there were a way to monetize the value of a smile, the patriarchal business culture may actually encourage smiling among their employees, and reward them in their paychecks.

     The Women at Work Should Smile Less article, Hillary Clinton, lawyer Gloria Allred, television reporter Diane Sawyer illustrate "success" because they “tend not to flash the pearlies. A half smile, then they get down to business.”  While I like and greatly respect the work of each of these powerful and competent women, I would like to create a list of women who are successful because of their smiles, power and competence, including: Oprah Winfrey (hello!), PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi (who oversees $ billions and sings karaoke at corporate gatherings.  (Google her picture and you’ll see her radiance.)  Author and women's advocate Suzanne Somers, and television show host and chef Rachel Ray, to name but a few. 

     Let’s take a look at Catie Kuric’s smile history.  As the sweetheart of America on the NBC’s Today show, she garnered the show high ratings with her bubbling personality and charismatic smile. But then she was wooed by CBS to anchor their Evening News, with hopes that she would increase their ratings. But the effervescent Catie had to cool her joyful jets and deliver the day’s highlights with low-wattage radiance, and barely a wisp of her once charismatic grin.  And the CBS ratings didn’t rise.

     So I have this to say to women: SMILE, no matter what the patriarchal, business world propaganda machine tries to tell you. It is absurd to correlate our income with our natural gifts of smiling, and we are the ones that need to shift the paradigm. Show that you can be confident, competent, productive and effective, and can do it all with a smile!  And when we ask for a salary or raise that you earned and deserve, show your bright pearly whites!!