Gender Dexterity Focuses on Understanding Differences to Create Solutions for Men and Women
It’s a new year, and annual compliance training is coming up. There is nothing like sitting in a conference room or participating in a webinar to learn of the latest updates to EEO laws and/or organizational policies. NOTHING LIKE IT IN THE WORLD!
A few years ago, when asked to participate in creating a Gender program for my company, I have to admit, I wasn’t very excited. There is nothing like creating content for a program titled “Gender Training”. Why you ask? Because I worked in a predominately male industry, (tech) and I could already see a lot of men running for the hills faster than the Road Runner outrunning an ACME rocket……BEEP BEEP!
That was until my team and I decided to stop focusing on the symptoms of gender equality and start focusing on the actual causes. This approach permitted research at the granular level — even situational. This is where the magic happened and the “aha” moments surfaced.
The first step was to rebrand ‘gender training’ to ‘Gender Dexterity.’ Gender is a two-way street and we wished to set the tone of inclusiveness from the beginning. The content is equally balanced for the understanding of both male and female tendencies. In understanding the strengths, inclinations, and techniques, often used by both genders, we can then appreciate the unique characteristics we provide, (keep in mind, we refer to 2 genders as that is the data set we can collect currently out there. Gender Dexterity opens us up to collecting additional data in the future).
When anyone approaches me and says, “Tell me how your content is different?” my response is, “We address real scenarios and focus on solutions which involve understanding the how and why?”
The comic above is a great example. It is such a common scenario, that satire is the best we have done in trying to address the problem. Admittedly, it is funny — but have you ever dug deeper into why this is happening? Or understand the cost associated to everyone involved?
We wanted to peel back the onion, no matter how painful, to understand why it is happening and how do we get past it.
Below are a few of the most commonly surfaced situations.
There is a death spiral in communication is which ultimately leads to disengagement. It goes a little like this…..
Scenario — a planning/brainstorming session, or presentation.
The breakdown of communication starts the moment the group physically comes together in the room in the form of non-verbal communication, (body language) between genders.
During presentations or brainstorming, women may nod their head to acknowledge they are listening and engaged. It is a movement that expresses respect for the person speaking. However, the male tendency is to observe that same head nod and assume it means agreement. It is only later that folks feel surprised and taken aback when they realize that this body language was misunderstood. Who wouldn’t? A head nod does typically mean ‘I agree!’
Women use more direct eye contact in conversation to create relationship and connection. While men interpret prolonged direct eye as assertive or sense of somehow being challenged. Women often approach men from the front while men often approach from the side at an angle, which is also how each of them tends to stand or sit when talking to others. Men may interpret face to face communication as too personal, or awkward. This is why you may notice men tend to speak side to side, arms crossed maybe and looking outward? Women can interpret this body language as disengaged, bored or even as disagreement with the topic at hand. A simple stance and angle of body can make a huge difference in how communication is being transferred and processed between men and women.
To compound the problem, verbal communication is now introduced into the scenario. When women are presenting, men are rather stoic, offering very little in the way of non-verbal insight when listening. Often women interpret that as the man being bored or not understanding what she is saying, when actually he is absorbing and processing the information. This pause in communication causes women to become very uncomfortable. Due to the lack of stimuli she feels she is losing her audience, in which she may find she begins to over-compensate by restating or asking if he understands what she is saying. In turn, men interpret the over-compensation as insecurity, or talking too much and which can lead him to think she is not assertive or confident enough to be a leader. Confusing? Absolutely!
Another factor in communication is Talk Time. It is a common misconception that women tend to talk more than men. Studies have shown the direct opposite — that men tend to talk more than women, and frequently interrupt women and talk over them much more that women interrupt men. Men tend to take up more time and space at meetings, while women try to make sure time is equitable. This stereotype and behavior alone can result in team breakdown, people not listening to each other and the loss of good ideas.
2. Processing Information
Information processing between genders tend to converge at the beginning and then diverge at the point of application. What does this mean? During the learning process we consume and store data somewhat the same, however when making that information actionable in the form of shaping opinions, men and women are very different, (diversity of thought!)
When men process information, they prefer to shape that information into an opinion immediately and independently. They often get up, exercise, and walk around until they have shaped the information into a formable opinion, then store that data for later use.
(ex. a+b + c = 52) — -> data stored for later/future use.
Unfortunately, women consider this approach as being unresponsive to suggestions, even exclusionary of outside considerations.
When women process information, they prefer to store the raw information, until such time they make the correlation of usefulness. When the need arises to shape that information into an opinion, they draw preliminary conclusions, reserving finality until verbalizing aloud to ensure the logic is rational. Once verbally stated and validated by those present will she then store the data for future use.
(ex. a+b+c = TBD until need arises) → Need arises and preliminary conclusion is (a+b+c = 52). She verbally presents preliminary conclusion (i.e. “trying it on for size”) to rationalize logic. Upon completion → stores data for later/future use.
Unfortunately, men may think that women are looking for approval when they process out loud or don’t know really have a view or opinion. Some men think that a woman’s way of processing is a sign of hesitation and therefore can be viewed as weak. This misconception makes them feel she is in distress, taking it upon themselves to “fix it”.
3. Workplace Etiquette
Women tend to be more relationship oriented. They accomplish tasks by building relationships first, in order to execute a task. Women focus on learning social structures within an organization, so they are comfortable asking others for assistance.
Men prefer to focus on the more task oriented approach. They build their relationships while in process of performing the task or project — building relationships along the way.
4. Leadership Style
Since Women are relationship oriented, they prefer to lead by consensus before deferring to hierarchy. Men can misinterpret this as a sign of hesitation or lack of confidence. In reality, it is a beautiful complement to the male style, and when pulled together, makes for an incredibly strong leadership team.
Men may be more hierarchical and include only the people closest to them at their level in the decision -making process, and only when they think it is necessary. Women often interpret this approach as exclusionary, arrogant, and even disrespectful.
This is enough to make anyone’s head spin, and while all the information in the world can be helpful, it doesn’t really answer the bigger question of ‘what are we to do?’ As you can imagine, the answer isn’t simple. One gender’s tendencies are NOT stronger than another’s, not in the tech world, not in the finance world, not in any world. In fact, these tendencies are not cultural. They exist on every continent and in every village and town regardless of upbringing.
When choosing an approach or model that favors one or the other, we lose out on diverse thought and inclusion, and our potential to have the most productive results. One thing I can state with absolute certainty, is that implementing D&I IS not easy, however, we cannot ignore the fact that D&I IS profitable!! The research and data is just undeniable, if not irrefutable.
The wonderful thing? There are a few things YOU can do to help adopt Gender Dexterity into your every day.
1. Knowledge is Power
The data provided above is based on profiling and is not to be used as a stereotype. Although a large majority of men and women display some of these characteristics, it is not one size fits all. Because not everyone fits into any mold, these characteristics should be used as a baseline until the exact characteristics of an individual are identified.
2. Eradicate Stereotypes
Free yourself of stereotypes and biases and be open to breaking past them in order to leverage each other’s strengths.
3. Be Conscious & Aware
Remember this is a two-way street. Both men and women need to be hyper-aware of each other’s verbal and non-verbal communication styles. Be ever vigilant to ensure EVERYONE stays engaged and works better together.
Men, be aware of how much time and space you take in meetings or group interactions. Make room for the contributions of women — goes as far as asking women to chime in or wanting to hear her opinion.
Women, get comfortable asserting more space for yourself. When processing aloud, be sure to be open about the fact that you are taking verbal steps to ensure you are on the right path and that you are not asking him what to do. We are all aware of the ‘listen — don’t answer’ argument that tends to happen at home… well…. It isn’t all that different at work!
4. Be Mindful of Manners
Studies have shown, men tend to interpret politeness and pleasantries as a sign of weakness; even become skeptical of sincerity. Women tend to apologize, or use “please” and “thank you” frequently.
It is important for both men and women to be mindful of these tendencies and be encouraging to one another. After all, no one has ever been ridiculed for having good manners.
Men, be more receptive,as well as, increase your output of pleasantries. It takes only a few seconds to make a BIG impact in creating an positive impression. Also, if you feel a women is apologizing for taking up space or interjecting in a conversation, pick a good time and place to let her know there is no need to apologize for participating — often it will give her a boost of confidence.
Women, if you find you have a habit of apologizing, be mindful the next time you feel you need to apologize. Ask yourself, what exactly am I apologizing for or is it even needed? Everyone makes mistakes, save the self deprecation for when its really needed. It will be considered more sincere as well as a powerful display of confidence.
5. Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
Simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know. Accept the fact you have blind spots. Appreciate the fact; mentally and biologically that men and woman were created to work together. A genetically engineered team whose sole purpose is to ensure survival. When working and respecting one another, they create a powerhouse that is statistically proven to outperform single sex groups.
Gender Dexterity falls under the umbrella of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I). Sure, neither are a topic most people warm up too. However, if you are a naturally curious person, you will discover the resistance you are feeling is purely based on fear. We are naturally fearful of new things or foreign concepts.
Often, we unconsciously allow others to influence our perception even shape our opinions due to the lack of information. This also means we adopt their fears or stereotypes. It is only through the process of learning do we become comfortable and confident in engaging in healthy dialog; which pushes past just talking about the issues and progresses to talking about solutions.
D&I has been around for decades, so it is safe to assume it’s here to stay. Make learning about Gender Dexterity or D&I a priority for your career. Be an early adopter, get involved, participate and develop 21st century leadership skills that make you stand out from the rest.
Visit www.variegategroup.com, to learn more about The Variegate Group and how we introduce the power of diverse thought to combat unconscious bias.