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Boys and girls: overcoming gender dynamics in the workplace

Not wanting to engender stereo-types, my sister gave my youngest daughter a toy “work-bench” for her second birthday.  It was complete enough to make even the most experienced carpenter green with envy.  She played with it for a minute, until the competing toy “kitchen” caught her attention, equally well-equipped.   Chromosomes, being what they are, I am not sure that she ever returned her attention to the work-bench.  The point I make with this historical missive is to share that the male and female genders are different.  And, these differences show up in many ways:

  1. These differences show up physically.  It is a scientific fact that our pelvic bones and clavicles are structured quite differently. 

  2. We are often prepared for life differently, often through role expectations, making us different mentally. 

  3. We are also governed by different hormones (estrogen or testosterone), affecting us emotionally. 

  4. There is also ethnicity that plays into our gender differences, which is also part of the role differentiations. 

As much as we are different, we have many similarities: after all, we are all human.  As humans our greatest commonality is our neuro-chemical and hormonal responses to situations that we perceive as threatening.  Often these reactions begin at a sub-conscious level, and are out of control before we can say “cortisol.” 

Leading both genders…

In a recent conversation with another leader, the topic came up that men sometimes have difficulty leading women.  Let’s be honest, those of us with the female persuasion do have some idiosyncrasies.  First and probably most notable, we tend to have more emotional responses, which makes us, well…a bit more pissy than our male counterparts.  Perhaps this explains why I never liked riding mares. 

Men on the other hand are a bit more straight-forward.  They can have a verbal knock-down drag-out and pat each other on the back at the end of the day.  What came from this conversation was a suggestion for a leadership module on “how to lead women.”  At the risk of spending years of research about different variations of how females’ function, and the number of hours spent learning, applying new knowledge, and remembering it during a time of stress, could in theory take years to master.

Span of control

Ultimately, all we have control over is our own attitudes, reactions, and behaviors. I love the image below. Its a great reminder that we only have control over a few things. This graph is also a great reminder when planning employee engagement activities as well.

Retrieved 8/22/2022 from Mindfulenough.com

Additionally, control over our actions means that we can use influence rather than a stick to accomplish goals: a key differentiator between leadership and management.   With that, let me propose a different solution.

Finding commonality

A common language, common set of experiences, and a common approach is a way to enhance workplace relationships through shared experiences.   This is why a pipeline of leadership development is so powerful within an organization.   Topics and courses like Mindset, Emotional Intelligence, Personality Styles, Resiliency, and Personal Values provide every team member with the opportunity to be more reflective and open to understanding their own responses as well as the responses and reactions of others. Consider an event in which an employee was upset over a real or perceived conflict. Common language responses like:

  1. “have you considered that you might have a closed mindset on this” (Mindset)

  2. “I am sorry if that initiated a threat response for you” (Learning agility)

  3. “How can I provide a different perspective” (Personality), or

  4. “I might have trampled on your personal values” (Values)

are all ways that we can address a difficult situation from a place of a shared framework in order to diffuse a situation.

Employees who may feel slighted over a real or perceived offense, often demonstrate greater resiliency in moving past the event through their own reflective process.  They might make statements like:

  1. “My emotional response really got the best of me earlier, hope we can move past this” (Emotional Intelligence)

  2. “I surprised myself with my response”! (Learning Agility)

  3. “After giving it some thought, I appreciate that you provided a different perspective” (Mindset or Personality styles)

  4. “I didn’t realize that this deeply hidden childhood event would trigger my fear” (Emotional Intelligence)

these are indicators that while there may still be lingering hurt of doubt, they are making an effort to move past the event. Give it time and based on statements like this, the situation will most likely resolve without further drama.

Common language, common experience

While not all instances of conflict can be solved through the common language and experience of Leadership Development, it definitely goes a long way in helping each other connect better through the shared experience of being human!  Ultimately, we only have control of ourselves.  Using a common language and shared experience is a powerful way to lead everyone equally without creating an us and them culture within your team or organization.

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