Why Jennifer Lawrence Gets Money When She Talks (But Hillary Is Vilified)

Hillary Clinton - March 15, 2016-West Palm Beach, Florida-Getty-H 2016
Mychal Watts/WireImage

Speech patterns and body language are among the ways in which men and women communicate power differently, and how far one ventures into the other gender’s territory can lead to advantageous — or disastrous — results.

After winning the Democratic primaries in five states March 15, Hillary Clinton delivered a victory speech that left some listeners cold. “Hillary shouting her speech,” tweeted Fox News host Howard Kurtz, “… a more conversational tone might be better for connecting with folks at home.”

Clinton’s take (“When women talk, some people think we’re shouting,” she said in October) reveals an important point about the differences in how men and women express power: It all goes back to expectations. “Every person has a range of acceptable behavior, and women get punished for the same behavior that men get rewarded for because it’s outside their [prescribed] range,” says Adam Galinsky, chair of the management division at the Columbia Business School. Some women use expectations to their advantage: “One of the things that accrues Jennifer Lawrence so much power is that she’s bubbly and exuberant. That allows her to ask for more money,” he says. “She recognizes that her persona gives her greater latitude.”

Smartly playing to one’s persona as a woman in the workplace can mean exuding warmth, says Linda Carli, visiting associate professor of psychology at Wellesley College. Leaning in the direction of people they’re talking to conveys likability, “which is more associated with influence [for women]. People expect women to smile.”

But the more male-dominated an environment, the more a lone female executive tends to assimilate leadership characteristics that are traditionally considered masculine, like strength and forcefulness. “If they have to negotiate with men, they will employ a more direct style,” says Sabrina Pasztor, assistant professor of clinical management communication at the USC Marshall School of Business. “They will come right out of the gate rather than setting the story up beforehand, which is a more feminine style of speech.”

Former Sony chair Amy Pascal’s idiosyncratic email style — peppered with sentence fragments, as revealed in the Sony hack — is an example of adopting masculine syntax, adds Pasztor. “I assume that based on her career trajectory and the culture in which she was embedded, she opted to use that type of speech intentionally,” she says. “If you need to operate in this masculine-dominant environment, you need to play that game in terms of the brusque, brief communication pattern.”

The problem is that adapting such a traditional model of blunt leadership creates what Galinsky calls a double-bind for female execs. They “violate the norms that women are supposed to be friendly and unassuming,” says Pasztor, noting that Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer has suffered backlash for adopting a “harsh, abrasive, almost hyper-masculinized style.”

So what’s a woman at the top to do? Powerful women are well-versed in an array of communication styles, from masculine aggressiveness to feminine soft power — the ability to lead through persuasion rather than coercion. The key is knowing when to deploy which tactic, and that’s where another particularly feminine aptitude comes into play: empathy. “Women can take the temperature of a room really quickly,” says Pasztor, who adds that they should use that information to inform their behavior, whether that means sustaining eye contact to express control or refraining from over-gesticulation in a room full of men. “You’re skilled at decoding emotions and body language, so if you’re not getting the reaction you want, maybe you need to vary your communication style in that moment. And that’s where your arsenal of masculine and feminine patterns comes in.”

But as more women rise through the ranks — the experts estimate that a group needs one-third representation to begin achieving parity — they aren’t the only ones blurring gendered behaviors. “We’ve seen men use feminine speech effectively,” says Pasztor. “People like George Clooney are excellent at playing the empathy card” and mirroring, i.e. verbally acknowledging and reflecting back the experiences of the speaker. The cultural concept of leadership “has changed somewhat in an androgynous direction,” says Northwestern University psychology professor Alice Eagly. “It’s still masculine but less so. Leadership scholars praise a more transformational form, which has to do with being inspirational so that people will give their best, and women emphasize that.”

This story first appeared in the July 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.