I cried in the boardroom. And that’s ok.

Alessandra M
3 min readMar 8, 2023

--

That evening, while I was commuting back home, a sense of unease started creeping in. So I did precisely what you should not be doing in these cases: I googled it. And found nothing.
Apparently, according to the internet, I was the first woman ever to burst into tears in front of everyone in a boardroom. Unless they were tears of joy or laughter. In that case, image banks had me covered.
But that wasn’t my case.
So I decided to share my experience to let the internet know that it can happen to cry at work and it’s a-ok.

Let’s take a few steps back.
Those particular days, I was supposed to be in my bed, as I was still recovering from a rather annoying long illness. Instead, I had decided to ignore the advice of my doctor and attend a 2 days offsite extraordinary board meeting. With some perspective, I can see now that it wasn’t very smart, but at that time I was convinced I had to do it.
Along the course of the meetings, my body started passing some messages, making me understand that my doctor was eventually right: I had the worst migraine of my life, while I had to stand in front of everyone and pitch my yearly plan. And in case you are wondering, no, I do not recommend the experience. I spent that night shivering and waking up because of the pain.

On the second day I took all the medications I had with me to try to numb the pain. I thought I had been smart, as I managed to go through my second round of pitches without that piercing pain. But my body, who was probably really pissed at me by then, decided to send me a new message. In capital letters this time: I got my period. It might seem anecdotal, but it’s not.
Somehow I got through it, the pitches, the challenges, the debates, the sleepless night. Until.

Until we had a closing round of wrap up comments. There, while expressing something very important for me, the main reason that makes me enjoy my job, I got emotional and I started crying.
I think that people around me got shocked. Or embarrassed. Or maybe both. Nobody said a word and I do not recall how we exited from that impasse. I probably played it on my minority status. Honestly, I have no idea.

While I was riding back the metro, looking for any HBS literature or reddit thread on the topic, I remembered something I learned at high school. The Iliad.
In the Iliad (which is the extended script of the movie “Troy”, let’s say) Achilles, the man who could not be defeated, the hero of the heroes, cries and evokes his mother. I remembered our professor explaining to us how the act of crying in the ancient Greek culture was an acceptable way to express an emotion. Even for a hero.

To. Express. An. Emotion.
How did this emotion become shameful along the way?
I had witnessed in my career many people expressing emotions in boardrooms. And not necessarily in a nice ways.
Me and some former colleagues have an epic scene engraved in our brains, with a certain CEO smashing a panda-shaped pack on the table of a boardroom, all while shouting. We thought it was hilarious back then, but nothing more than that. Mostly because of the cute panda being used as a weapon.
So the issue is that only this specific teary emotional reaction is seen as inappropriate or as a sign of weakness. By chance, the one that women are more prone to.

Because, indeed, women tend to cry more and more often than men. The hypothesis regarding the causes of this behaviour are varied (it’s the hormonal changes during menstrual cycle, the abundance of prolactin, the shorter tears ducts, the lower testosterone level…). It’s biology and it has nothing to do with strength. In fact, I remind you, we can do everything men can do, even while bleeding.

So, if you found this article because you cried in a boardroom and wanted to check if you were the first one ever, do not worry.
You are not. And that’s ok.

--

--