As I mentioned last week, in Part 5: Demographic Differences, we reviewed two primary topics: generational differences and gender differences. In today’s blog, we discuss discoveries around gender as it concerns the workplace and talk about what companies and organizations might do to enhance their success when confronting any challenges.
Again, let me reiterate the danger of generalizations (some of which we are about to report on) when it comes to gender. Every individual is indeed that – an individual. What we will be sharing below represents trends, not absolutes, so to get the best results you will need to know your people well. Really well. Which leads us to our first point – Communication.
According to research, a woman’s tendency to be more empathetic than her male counterpart makes her a better listener and communicator.[i] Other communication stylistic differences include assigning projects and tasks and asking questions. “Several well-respected studies have shown women tend to soften their demands and statements, whereas men tend to be more direct.”[ii] Women also tend to ask more questions and do so with dual purpose: gaining information and to develop a relationship.[iii] Men, on the other hand, focus primarily on the former.
Similar studies through the years have cited differences in attitudes and behaviors between the genders. According to Dr. William Pollack, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, women are conditioned by prior experiences to not act with as much confidence as men. Dr. Pollack also said that when women and men work in mixed groups they have higher rates of performance, but lower rates of satisfaction. The research has been mute on the reasons why.[iv]The view and approach to working on teams seem to have gender differences as well. Women look at their work in teams as an opportunity to work together and share with all on the team. In contrast, men typically are more interested in seeing if each member of the team is fulfilling their role on the team. Both find teams important to their success and the success of the organization but approach it differently.
But WAIT! Is this Self-fulfilling Prophecy?
There is an interesting study that was published this past July[v] that researched the effects of prior bias on how men and women are treated differently in the workplace. A few interesting findings: if an organization promotes the beliefs that were highlighted above (women are better or worse at fill in the blank), teams tend to propagate those attitudes in dealing with real or perceived gender differences. Even the arguments made in favor of having women in the workplace can actually undermine the very benefit one is hoping to gain through diversification.
Ok, I’m Listening, but What Should I Do?
According to a recent Forbes article,[vi] there are several areas that need to be reviewed and addressed in your workplace. Some office dress codes are outdated and contain gender bias. Language used in the workplace could be introducing bias or reinforcing differences. Make sure the events or perks you are offering appeal to both sexes. Role models are important in the workplace as well, so ensure role models (art, pictures, etc.) capture the best of both sexes. Avoid the stereotype threat – if you are male don’t remind women that they are women – ever. I hope that last one was an unnecessary reminder.
A study[vii] by Sara Fisher Ellison (MIT) and Wallace P. Mullin (George Washington University), showed that “people are more comfortable around people who are like them,” but while they might have been more comfortable in those homogeneous surroundings, they were less effective than diverse groups. Revenue figures showed that diverse groups were more productive and better performing by far. So, don’t worry too much about making sure everyone is ‘comfortable’ in your new team dynamic.
“It turns out that exceptional work cultures for women also produce outstanding workplaces for all employees,” said Great Place to Work’s Chinewe Onyeagoro.[viii] By promoting an environment that encourages gender diversity – it would appear that everyone will win. (See Infographic on 12 Advantages Women Bring to the Workplace[ix] below.)
[vii] Ellison, Sara Fisher, and Wallace P. Mullin. “Diversity, Social Goods Provision, and Performance in the Firm.” Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, vol. 23, no. 2, 2014, pp. 465–481., doi:10.1111/jems.12051.