Office

“Don’t try to be too charming, witty, or intellectual … just be yourself!”

You’re likely to hear (and groan through) small jokes like this during any typical workday presentation. Thing is, you’re going to react differently depending on whether a man or a woman says it, according to a new study by the Harvard Business Review.

According to their research, making jokes during a presentation helps men but it hurts women. “We find that when men add humor to a business presentation, observers view them as having higher levels of status (that is, respect or prestige) within the organization,” says the report, while adding that women making the same joke appear to possess lower levels of status and their performance and capability suffer, at least in the eyes of the meeting participants.

The research team utilized over 300 U.S. employees spread throughout different industries, who were subjected to two controlled experiments involving two actors (one male, one female) giving two different version of a presentation, one with jokes interspersed throughout and one without. These were then recorded and delivered to a conference room of workers. The background of the presenters was identical.

Between post-presentation critiques and comments, a definitive pattern emerged: Men telling jokes were considered “witty” while women were “cover[ing] up a lack of real business acumen” (note: those were actual comments).

Thankfully, the team doesn’t suggest women shouldn’t be funny: It simply says that research shows that pointing out this prejudice can decrease bias.

Better advice? Note the bias and, seriously, can the humor. As one InsideHook employee noted in our recent study of men behaving badly at work: “I just want to get in, get out and check things off the to-do list. Plentiful are the moments when we’re in a team meeting and the conversation — commandeered by one of my male compadres — takes a sharp left turn into a totally unrelated, unproductive topic.”

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