For Working Women, Being Funny Is No Laughing Matter

A new study finds women who use humor in the workplace could face negative outcomes.
By: | January 15, 2019 • 2 min read
Topics: HR Leadership

Since businesses first began to be, well businesses, women have had a tough time being taken seriously in the workplace. While aggressive men were seen as go-getters, women were being overly ambitious or pushy. Men could be a lot of things perceived as part of the performance ideal, but for women, those same factors often are posited as negatives.

Now, according to a new report from University of Arizona and University of Colorado at Boulder, women can add being funny to the risk list. Say what?

In the paper, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers explored how being funny worked for both men and women sales professionals when presenting in front of an audience. Women who took a delivery style with some humor mixed in came off as “disruptive.”  On the opposite side, any budding Jerry Seinfelds were perceived as being more helpful and “functional,” the paper reports.


“The female humor was rated as more dysfunctional,” Jon Evans, one of the researchers who co-wrote the paper, told the Washington Post.

For the study, four videos–two with humor and two without (and each type containing a separate male and a female)–provided the test materials.  The twist was that both gender presenters used the exact same jokes to the viewers.

According to the paper, gender still colors the perceptions of behavior. “When we form an impression about an individual, we’re using multiple sources of information, and these influence each other,” Evans told the Post.