Like millions of others, my husband and I tuned in just before Christmas to watch the final of The Apprentice. Someone at work had let slip who had won and I was trying to play dumb, however during the opening montage the footage of candidate Bianca bursting into tears made me mutter "that's what did it for her, he won't have liked that."
Miffed husband aside, I started to think more about this. Was her emotional outburst really so off putting? I mean, we live in a time when you can't really turn on the television without someone on screen crying, but should this be replicated in a professional environment?
Sheryl Sandberg is a big advocate of crying at work, she says that "sharing emotions builds deeper relationships" , however most businesses don't operate like Facebook or Google, and not all offices have blue-sky thinking zones and slides in reception, which is especially true in the world of professional services...
In 2011 Anne Kreamer surveyed over 500 management professionals and found 41% of women had cried at work, compared to 9% of men - the research showed that those that had cried were from all levels of management. In the same year, research conducted into US professionals by Kimberly Elsbach found that employees who cried a work were viewed as 'unprofessional, weak and manipulative'. The findings were particularly damning of female employees with Elbach commenting that "women aren't socialised like men, they carry an extra burden of emotional labour".
It was this comment that really interested me. Studies have shown repeatedly that there is such a thing as male and female brains, which means that 'most' women tend to react more emotionally and have a more empathic response than men - these 'emotional' responses are dictated by a prevalence of estrogen or testosterone, so in essence, what might be a natural, uncontrollable response for some of our colleagues has been deemed unprofessional - which is simply because the modern workplace and the rules to which we all abide, were based on male personality traits.
Over the last few weeks we have seen much talk about the challenges that sportswomen have faced in competitive events. A number of female athletes have come out to support Heather Watson, who after great recent form said she was knocked out of the Australian Open because of "girl things". The likes of Paula Radcliffe, Martina Navratilova and Annabel Croft have all come forward with similar tales from their sporting careers. This has also brought to light that the coach of the British hockey team changes the team's training schedule in line with their menstrual cycles, following significant research into the impact that this can have to their performance. This is another example of where male personality traits have dictated the rules of the game - in this case presenting some women with a handicap. Could you imagine this being raised in a professional working environment though? I can't - certainly not without it being a highly sexist joke!
This debate makes for an interesting conversation. When you think about the first wave of powerful and successful women in UK business, the model was very much Margaret Thatcher. She was one of the boys, and could be the most damning critic of her own sex - women had to work twice as hard, and be hard, suppressing any empathic traits which could be viewed as a sign of weakness. But perhaps now, as more and more women take on leadership roles, often whilst managing a family life, we're seeing a softening of the rules.
When I think back to the start of my career the idea of crying at work would have been highly unusual, whereas now, 73% of the employees at Sellick Partnership think that it's OK. Perhaps in the near future we'll be tearing up the rule-book and setting a new definition of what professional actually means.