What can organizations do to create workplace equality between men and women? They can start by understanding the different strengths and styles each gender brings to the workplace.
Relationships vs. tasks
Women tend to be more relationship-oriented and accomplish tasks by building relationships first. They then know who to ask and are comfortable asking others to get things done. Men tend to be more task-oriented and go straight to the task. They build their relationships when they are in the task or project.
When women are mulling over a decision, they will often process and consider options out loud, while men tend to process internally until they come up with a solution.
The result: Women often think men are being unresponsive to suggestions because of this and men often think that women are looking for approval when they process out loud or don’t know what they are doing. Some men think that a woman’s way of processing is a sign of weakness.
Because women are more relationship oriented, they tend to lead by consensus. Men tend to be more hierarchical and include only the people closest to them at their level in the decision-making process, when they think it is necessary.
In nonverbal behavior, women often nod their head to show they are listening. Men then leave the conversation thinking that nod means agreement, and will be surprised to find out the woman didn’t agree at all.
When a woman is speaking to a man and he doesn’t say anything and stays in neutral body language to show he is listening, a woman often interprets this as the man being bored or not understanding what she is saying.
This can lead the woman to become uncomfortable and repeat what she is saying or ask the man each time if he understands what she is saying. The man then interprets that as insecurity or talking too much, which then leads him to think the woman is not assertive or confident.
Women will use more direct eye contact in conversation to create relationship and connection, while many men take that as a challenge to their power or position. Women will also approach a man from the front, while men often approach from the side at an angle, which is how each of them tends to stand or sit when talking to others. Men interpret the face-to-face as too personal or aggressive and women will interpret the talking side-to-side as though he is not being upfront or even hiding something from her.
Men take up more time and space at meetings, while women try to make sure there is more equality in the room. Despite stereotypes to the contrary, studies have shown that men talk more than women. Men interrupt women and talk over them much more than women interrupt men. This can result in team breakdown, people not listening to each other and the loss of good ideas.
If you grasp the importance of effective gender communications and gender equality in the workplace, start making a difference today using these strategies:
Generalizations are just that
It’s important not to stereotype all men or all women. Not everyone fits these generalizations. These are cultural norms based on research that show a large majority of men and women display some of these characteristics. Some of these behaviors are based on acculturation and learning and some of them are based on how our brains work.
Men and women need to be aware of each other’s styles of communication, verbal and non-verbal, to work better together. Be aware of unconscious biases and be open to breaking past stereotypes and unconscious bias to leverage each other’s strengths.
Don’t be afraid to recognize differences. It will be easier to have open discussions to find similarities and use those differences to achieve greater goals — together.