Women weigh in on being told to smile in the workplace

Harrassed woman dislikes his hand

Women being told to smile in the workplace is one of the most prevalent micro-aggressions to hit female staff.

Almost all women – 98% – said they have been told to smile at least once in their life. What’s more, 15% even said it is a weekly or “more frequent” experience.

More often that not, these comments occur on the job. Nearly two in five (37%) women were last told to “smile more” at work. However, a quarter said it was in public, and a fifth (21%) said it was at home.

READ MORE: Why sexist micro-aggressions are holding women back at work

Requests that women soften their expressions or adjust their demeanour at work typically come from male co-workers, and are more commonly directed toward women in higher working positions, the research found.

Women said 53% of “smile more” requests come from men. However, 41% reported receiving similar requests from their female co-workers.

Nearly two in five (37%) of women were asked to smile by a male boss. And while just a quarter women reported being asked to smile by a female boss, those who did were the most likely to feel undervalued at their job.

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By their own admission, women find these requests demeaning, annoying and offensive.

An expert told Byte that a woman’s smile is as much a signal of joy as a sign of submission, general agreeableness and a deliberate lack of anger.

While many studies suggest sexism and bias in the workplace is unconsciously conveyed, they can have very real consequences for women in professional settings.

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More than half of women “softened” digital communications with their colleagues. This was more common among those in elevated positions.

Compared to 57% of women in either entry-level or associate positions, 70% of women in senior and executive roles believed it important to be liked at work.

Similarly, women working in mid-level (60%) or senior and executive jobs (59%) were the most likely to “soften” their written communication to come off as less aggressive or brusque.

READ MORE: 3 things you should do every day if you want be more likable

Meanwhile, women who feel less inclined to smile encounter accusations “resting bitch face”. This is often used to describe a person who regularly appears unhappy or aggravated despite feeling content or at ease.

Over half (53%) of women self-identified as having resting bitch face and suggested they were taken a fifth less seriously at work as a result of their natural expressions.

A majority of women also saw resting bitch face as a negative trait, as 69% of women who said they have it believe they needed to “soften” their demeanour.

READ MORE: More than half of women believe sexism has held them back at work

One 31-year-old woman told Byte the request to smile is “extremely demeaning” and shows that outward appearance is “valued over the mental and emotional well-being of the female staff”.

A 40-year-old woman said she felt “depressed, resentful, misunderstood and alone” when she was asked to smile at work.

A 43-year-old woman believed her smile had nothing to do with the quality of her work performance.