There have been a lot of surveys conducted in recent years on gender equality. The figures vary, but women now make up about 44% of the South African workforce. In spite of this, less than 18% of Leadership positions in the corporate sector are filled by women and only about 7% at Board level. Is this a South African issue only? No. Statistics in Canada and Australia of women representation at a Director level are also less than 9%. So why is this when women make up more than 51% of the population and have been active participants in the workplace for over 50 years?
Think about that for a moment. 50 years of women at work. Seems like a long time doesn’t it? Think again! In the business and cultural evolutionary process, 50 years is a drop in the ocean. So how do we fast track evolution? Understanding how we are different and harnessing those differences into a productive partnership and building on our strengths as men and women and balancing the weaknesses sounds like business common sense. Diversity training programmes have been around for quite a while and are hopefully having an impact. (I would love to hear from you in that regard.)
How We Differ.
So here are some tips on working with and understanding the opposite sex in the workplace.
Always remember we are different and it is OK! Our brains our wired differently, we have different ways of dealing with stress, anger, confrontation, problems and people. Often the cause of conflict in the workplace is simply a lack of understanding of our differences. In the book, How to Get What You Want in the Workplace by Dr John Gray, he talks about the communication differences of Martians and Venusians. We use the same words but they often have very different meanings. Even our reasons for talking are different!
Four Reasons to Talk
Men primarily have one reason to talk, women have four!
- Talking to Make a Point. Both men and women do this, however men will use the least number of words possible and generally rely on facts, figures and logic. It’s all about content as men are task and solution oriented. Women tend to be more relationship oriented, so in making a point they will use different tone and probably take longer by including people and feelings with the facts.
- Talking to give and receive Emotional Support. (I know I do this one!) Sometimes women will talk just to convey feelings. We don’t expect a solution, there is no hidden agenda or accusation, it is just an emotional reality check. Expressing and sharing feelings, especially if they are negative, is a method of giving and receiving support for Venusians.
- Talking to Relieve Tension. Women often feel the need to talk about a problem or issue just to feel better. Venting helps to relieve tension and when we are allowed uninterrupted venting, we start to realise that maybe things aren’t so bad and look at ways to solve issues. It is a form of thinking out loud! To most men this sound like complaining and in the workplace can be misunderstood as “She is not coping”. Men internalise problems and issues, mulling it over quietly until a solution begins to emerge. This is how he starts to feel more confident before talking.
- Talking to Discover a Point. Sometimes women are not sure what the point is they want to put across, so we will talk in a circular fashion almost, moving around the subject until what we want to say suddenly becomes apparent! A bit like brainstorming or mind-mapping. We talk to gain clarity. Men really can’t understand this as they usually know what they are going to say before they say it!
As women wanting to get on in business, we need to understand what method of communication we are using and when we are using all four at once! This can be very confusing for a man. In formal business situations, women have learnt to limit communication to the first reason to talk, and focus more on content.
It has been an interesting development in the last 10 years or so, to notice the changing skills requirements for managers and leaders in business. The focus is much more on emotional intelligence and listening skills, the ability to develop and retain talent in the workplace, and creating conditions of empowerment for all. The research shows us that women are more people-centred, intuitive and holistic in their thinking, and focus on relationship building. Men are more object-centred, rational and analytical in their thinking and focus more on peer group relationships. Men are more comfortable with logical problem-solving and women will consider people and feelings more. (So what do you think the statistics should be saying about women in leadership positions?)
We are different and those differences can complement each other. If we would take a little more time to understand ourselves and the opposite sex, what an awesome and productive partnership could evolve!