Managing Genders at Work
by Matt Krumrie
Each person brings their own strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and idiosyncrasies to the workplace. Among the main challenges today's leaders face is managing these differences across genders.
Men and women tend to just be different from one another, and a good manager must recognize those differences for the good of the organization. At the same time, managers must treat everyone fairly in order to prevent gender division and animosity among staff.
Gender-Managing Advice from Managers
"Set your goals, and ‘bridge your vision' to your employees," advises Henry Wong. A venture capitalist and founder and managing director of Diamond companies, Wong has managed numerous teams through starting up five technology startups. "Make sure your communication is direct and clear."
Marjorie Brody, founder and president of Brody Communications, works with Fortune 1000 companies, helping successful business leaders identify and enhance their strategies and skills for career success. She says good managers should relish the chance to work with both genders as well as take advantage of the opportunity to integrate a workplace that also likely includes many different ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, and sexual orientations.
"You're always going to like some people more than others," says Brody, author of Etiquette for Everyone, Every Day and Career Magic: A Woman's Guide to Reward & Recognition. "But you need to treat everyone fairly based on capabilities and accomplishments -- not gender. If you have developed friendships, it is best to keep them outside of the work environment so other employees do not feel you are favoring those people."
Get Past Stereotypes
Joan Runnheim, Monster Career Advisor and president of Pathways Career Success Strategies, provides consulting and training to organizations wanting to create a gender-equitable workplace. She says these stereotypes are among the many issues managers must navigate when working with different genders:
- Men being paid more than women for the same job.
- Women not being included in certain company-sponsored activities, such as golf outings.
- Women being passed over for promotions.
- Women being expected to organize parties and perform other traditionally female-held duties.
When dealing with gender issues, it's important to overlook traditional stereotypes that are often false. "Don't stereotype and assume all women are the same," says Brody. "Women tend to take things more personally; thus, you can't figure you're going to give her criticism and then she'll want to go out (for happy hour)."
But when managing others, Brody says respect is more important than control. "Men are comfortable in hierarchical situations," she says. "Don't be afraid of taking command. He doesn't have to like you to respect you."
When It Comes to Gender Neutrality, Perception Can Be Reality
Another gender-related issue managers often face is allegations of favoritism toward members of the same sex.
John Coffey, president of Winning Careers, who has more than 25 years of experience as a manufacturing manager, says a leader must always focus on each individual's skills, abilities and contributions regardless of gender. Managers need to continually be aware of and sensitive to how even the most innocent comment can be misunderstood and lead to serious consequences.
Most managers have employees they can always count on, Coffey says. These employees have great attitudes and take on responsibility without complaining. They get the job done right and on time. Managers naturally have feelings of gratitude and admiration for such employees. This is often wrongly perceived as favoritism. If gender is also a part of the equation, then the issue of sexism often comes into play.
According to Wong, a good manager must always be aware of the power of perception. "Don't underestimate the seriousness of sexual harassment in the workplace," he cautions. "Most workers have good hearts with good intentions, but there are some who abuse the sexual harassment law and are out to get the big companies with deep pockets. Avoid anything that has to do with gender, sex and discrimination. When dealing with employees, make it clear not to venture into dangerous conversation or any misinterpreted actions."
Overall, Brody says both genders should try to learn from each other. "If the communication isn't working, it's important to sit down and either figure out why or have a conversation about some of the differences," she says. "Men might be sarcastic and think that's funny. Typically, women don't find sarcasm amusing. Don't expect everyone to be the same. Find ways to benefit from the differences. The rules need to be the same for all people, regardless of gender."