Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology

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Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology - Early View Articles, Pages ${blockparams.parentJournalIssue.pageRange}

Gender, leadership, and the display of empathic anger

Three experimental studies with different participant pools examined the effects of displays of empathic anger – anger that is caused by witnessing or learning of harm done to another person – on perceptions of men and women in leadership positions. In contrast to prior work, which focused on expressions of anger regarding personal failure and found double standards that favour men, the results in this study show that displays of empathic anger were significantly more beneficial for female leaders. In particular, female leaders who expressed anger about a harm done to a subordinate were perceived as possessing more agentic and communal characteristics, and as being more effective in their position, than their male counterparts. Moreover, the results showed that this effect was driven by observers’ tendency to attribute empathic anger expressed by female compared with male leaders more strongly to internal reasons like the leader's personality. Consistent with these findings, the different perceptions of male and female leaders were no longer present when attributions for the displays of empathic anger were clearly internal. Practitioner points To be effective leaders, female managers need to show qualities like determination and confidence, but unlike male leaders, they often find it difficult to do so without simultaneously been judged as lacking important attributes like warmth and kindness. The results in this study suggest that female leaders can overcome this problem by expressing anger about a harm done to others, which causes observes to judge them even more positively than male leaders who engage in the same behaviour. Overall, whereas female leaders should generally avoid expressing anger about a personal harm for which they are judged very negatively, they should not be reluctant to display anger about harm done to other members of organization when they have the opportunity to do so.

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