Gender Differences at Work

gender differencesHave you ever scratched your head and thought, “Why does he or she do that?” It’s because people do things that make sense to them, but may not make any sense to you. When it comes to gender, there are both hard-wired and socialized differences that show up at work.

We are raised in different cultures and it starts from the moment we are born wrapped in our pink or blue blankets. We hold, talk to, and treat infant girls and boys differently.

Let’s take a look at how children play. Boys play games centered on competition and conflict (think war games, cops and robbers, or any sports).  In these games, boys learn how to win and lose, get to a goal, take risks, and play with people they do not like.  In contrast, girls play games centered on relationships and avoiding conflict (think tea parties, dolls, or dress up). In these games, girls learn how to cooperate, communicate, and do what is fair for all with an even distribution of power.

Not surprisingly, these early lessons carry into adulthood and into the workplace. Men and women differ in how we work within a structure, work in teams, communicate, conduct meetings, take risks, solve problems, and how we lead.  For example, let’s look at organizational structure.  Men prefer to work in a hierarchical structure.  This structure is both goal-focused and linear-focused, with a directive communication style (telling others what to do).  Women prefer to work in a flat structure that is process-focused and multi-faceted. Talking it over through discussion and involvement is the preferred communication style.

When it comes to problem solving, women tend to be much more calculated in their risk-taking and decision making than men. Women problem-solve using divergent thinking or viewing things in a larger context. Women consider other people, their family, their health, finances, safety, quality of life, and future commitments. Women also ask more questions, seek alternative solutions, and worry more about details. The downside of divergence is that it takes more time and can make women more hesitant in their decision-making process.

Men tend to just “jump in” and see what happens, processing information quickly, asking fewer questions, and worrying less about details than moving forward. Therefore, men problem-solve using convergent thinking or zeroing in on a specific issue for resolution. This can translate into taking greater risk, but the downside of rapid convergence is missing opportunities, such as better and more creative solutions.

The fact is, we have differences in virtually every aspect of business. This is not about rights and wrongs or good and bad. It’s simply about difference. 

As you might imagine, these differences can lead to very different perceptions about men and women as workers and as leaders.

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