Women like Simone Biles are pressured to smile a lot. But it’s not always the right move.
Grinning doesn’t get women gold medals. It also doesn’t make them look younger, earn more money or get taken more seriously at work.
Yet female employees tell Moneyish they are constantly pressured to put on a happy face as part of their performance reviews.
New York opera singer Nicole Aiossa, 38, notes that while smiling is part of auditioning or performing, she frowns in concentration during rehearsals. “I get constant remarks how ‘severe’ I look all the time … like I wasn’t ‘having a good time.’
This resonates with Simone Biles’s stance against gratuitous grinning this week, when the Olympian shut down a “Dancing With the Stars” judge who said that he was “waiting” for her to smile at his compliments.
“Smiling doesn’t win you gold medals,” said Biles, who has four of them.
Liza Bychkov-Suloti, a partner at PR and marketing firm Shadow, agrees. “Focus, drive, passion and talent aren’t always accessorized with a smile … and it seems demeaning to expect one at all times,” she said. “I’d like to think what came out of my mouth has always been more important than the shape of it.”
Here’s another excuse not to smile – it makes you look two years older than keeping a more neutral expression does, according to a study being published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.
“It’s unnecessary. It doesn’t always help us at work,” said Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster. “When you look at people in authoritative roles, both men and women, chances are they are not smiling all the time, nor should they be.”
But while smiling often has no impact on job performance, wearing a cheerful expression is another double standard that working women face.
“If you’re a woman that isn’t smiling, that’s not good for getting others to work well with you,” said Traci Cappiello, 35, a program manager in Manhattan. “That comes from women being told they’re too aggressive, so smiling can soften that perception.” Women receive 2.5 times the amount of feedback that men did about their aggressive communication styles being a negative, a Stanford study revealed.
But smiling too much also makes you seem naive, according to an NYU report that found happier-looking workers get taken advantage of. A European study also found grinning, agreeable employees have lower salaries. And too-smiley women in are often seen as too weak to lead.
So what’s the “right” amount to smile? The bottom line is to be true to your emotions, like Biles did. Smile when it’s “go” time. Smile when it comes naturally. But if someone says “cheer up” when you’re not feeling it, respectfully tell them to stick it.
“You have every right to say, ‘I’m in the middle of working on something,’ ‘I’m deep in thought,’ or ‘I don’t feel like smiling right now,’” said Salemi.
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