London - Women should not be afraid to cry at work and it could even help them to succeed, a leading businesswoman has claimed.

Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, said women should be honest with themselves about their femininity rather than trying to compete by behaving like men.

The 42-year-old is one of the few female executives to have reached the top in Silicon Valley and has been instrumental in the success of the social networking service.

She made her surprising assertion – which goes against the conventional wisdom that crying at work is career suicide – in a speech to US students at Harvard Business School.

“I’ve cried at work. I’ve told people I’ve cried at work,” she said. “I don’t believe we have a professional self from Mondays through Fridays and a real self for the rest of the time.

“I talk about my hopes and fears and ask people about theirs. I try to be myself. Honest about my strengths and weaknesses, and I encourage others to do the same. It’s all professional and it is all personal, all at the very same time.”

Critics said it was all very well for a woman in her powerful position to advocate such ideas but it was unrealistic for those further down the career ladder. Research shows that women are much more likely than men to cry at work, as they are in general – primarily because boys are taught not to cry.

An Israeli study last year found that when women cry, men’s testosterone levels fall substantially, making them feel less aggressive but more uncomfortable.

And Professor Kim Elsbach, a Californian academic who has studied the effects of crying in the workplace, found there were few situations in which it was considered “acceptable”.

While crying due to a personal loss was tolerated in moderation, it was widely considered to be unacceptable in a public meeting or due to work stress, she said.

Crying in a private performance evaluation was seen as unprofessional and manipulative, she found. And women who shed tears at work tended to feel intense shame and disappointment in themselves, viewing it as a mistake that had cost them promotion.

But Anne Kreamer, author of a book about workplace emotion, said men and women at all levels of management had cried at work, “dispelling the notion it’s career suicide”.

She found that 41 percent of women admitted becoming tearful, compared with only nine percent of men. More surprisingly, she discovered women tended to be more unsympathetic than men to a crying female colleague. Daily Mail