Why humour can help women thrive as leaders

Being funny helps leaders influence people, but women can benefit from using humour in the workplace more than men do.
By: | May 23, 2023

Women who master the art of making people laugh could benefit from this skill to be more influential leaders in the workplace, said Ella Miron-Spektor, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour, INSEAD.

A study conducted by Miron-Spektor; Julia Bear, Professional of Organisational Behaviour, College of Business at Stony Brook University; and Emuna Eliav, Senior UX Expert at Cognit, analysed 2,407 TED talks by prominent speakers who presented new ideas in their areas of expertise to live and online audiences.

The study, titled Think Funny, Think Female: The Benefits of Humour for Women’s Influence in the Digital Age, took note of examples of how the audience reacted and laughed at the speeches to quantify humour, as well as tracking audience rating, independent evaluations, and online view counts.

The authors found that female TED speakers who used humour in their presentations were more popular and seen as more influential in comparison to less funny women and comparably funny men.

Transferring this finding to the workplace, Miron-Specktor suggested that humour can help female leaders overcome resistance and gain influence by increasing their perceived warmth and competence.

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She also drew on an ongoing research project undertaken by INSEAD, which is analysing the use of humour in more than 200 start-up pitches. One of the key findings showed that female founders’ pitches as rated by an independent evaluator as less funny were less likely to win and be perceived positively by investors and judges than those by their equally unfunny male counterparts, reported the Business Times.