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Faculty & Research


Think Funny, Think Female: The Benefits of Humor for Women’s Influence in the Digital Age

Journal Article
Women - so the stereotype goes - are not funny. Indeed, some evidence indicates that using humor in presentations may even be detrimental to women, hindering their perceived competence and status. Yet, given that women continue to be underrepresented in high status positions, less is known about whether humor can benefit high-status women under certain circumstances. The authors explored the use of humor in TED talks, in which speakers from a variety of domains are given a platform to share their expertise with a global audience - often using humor to get their message across. Challenging the gender stereotype, our analysis of 2,407 TED talks revealed that using humor increased influence, especially for female speakers. The authors investigated multiple indicators of influence, including number of views, how inspiring the talk was, and the perceived leadership qualities of the speaker. A deeper analysis of highly influential talks on social science topics (92 talks) revealed that the benefits of using humor stemmed from perceptions of speakers' warmth and competence but not from the type of humor used. These findings are consistent with research showing that women are rewarded when they violate agentic stereotypes related to competence. Our discovery underlines the power of humor as a means to extend one’s influence and deliver a successful presentation in the digital age, especially for women.

Professor of Organisational Behaviour