Are Men and Women Really That Different in the Workplace?

The barriers which women face in a professional context mainly occur because women have different characteristics than men. This often leads to funnelling of women into certain kinds of roles, which means they are often not able to move up into higher paid positions as quickly as their male colleagues. However, men and women really aren’t that different and the qualities that each gender provides to a business are actually complementary to the overall success of an organisation.

For instance, a study on gender bias conducted by New York based Catalyst found that most women are team players and female leaders are more supportive and rewarding. Men, on the other hand, are found to be better at delegating and managing tasks. By combining these different qualities and personalities, as well as understanding the multiple strengths individuals can bring to the table, a business is more likely to thrive.

Keith Merron, a senior associate at Barbara Annis & Associates, said “Men are linear in thought processes and more narrow in their focus.” This quality, he explained, allows men to break down problems into ‘component parts’ and solve them much faster and easier.

Women often see a problem as a whole and they are able to come up with an understanding of a particular situation without having to break it down into smaller parts. Merron pointed out that this is a clear example of why businesses should observe gender balance in the workplace. “When it comes to problem solving,  particularly in business you need a balance of both perspectives,” he said.

Mustafa Ozbilgin, a researcher at Brunel University in the United Kingdom, said men and women are also similar in many respects. Jude Miller-Burke, PhD, an executive coach and owner of JAMB Consulting in Phoenix, USA, has a similar belief. These “striking” similarities, she explained, are often displayed by men and women in leadership roles. For instance, when tasked to lead people, both genders have a vision, motivate people to achieve that vision, and reward people for taking steps to achieve that vision. Both genders also believe that integrity, honesty, and confidence in their managerial skills, as well as having great communication skills and high self-esteem are essential to success.

Most men and women are not pushovers either. Based on a study conducted by Miller-Burke, on a scale of 1 to 7, both genders had an average score of over 5 points when it comes to arguing a point to conclusion. This shows that both men and women are not afraid to speak their mind and let their opinions be known if they believe that what they have to say is relevant and important.

What is different though is the behaviours of men and women in senior management and executive positions. If one party feels threatened they can adopt bullying behaviour to undermine the confidence of the other party. This is no longer about gender but more about the pursuit of power.

Another difference is the language men and women use in the workplace. Men often communicate by using sporting analogies. Women communicate by describing feelings.  Both parties can stop listening based on communication styles.

But no matter how different or similar men and women in the professional world are, many experts agree that these differences and similarities should not matter. A person’s gender should not be a hindrance to their success. Men and women can both contribute to the good of a business or organisation.

I would appreciate hearing about your experiences in business, particularly if you are in senior leadership roles.


The Role of Men in Advancing Gender Equality

In the last few decades, efforts to promote gender equality in health, social development and human rights have been driven by women. Because women are often the victims of gender inequality and stereotyping, it isn’t surprising that they are the ones to lead the call for changes on how the world perceives them. However, gender equality doesn’t concern only women. It concerns everybody.

The European Commission recently pointed out, gender inequality is not just a “women’s concern.” Promoting gender balance is the “responsibility of all individuals and of the society as whole and requires the active contribution and input from both women and men.” As such, men are encouraged to take joint responsibility with women to actively participate in efforts to establish gender balance in society and in business.

Men have a lot to gain from a gender-equal society, according to UNESCO. It is no secret that many men suffer from socially-constructed gender stereotypes that force them to be tough, place themselves in great danger and be someone they are not. If a man is perceived as being “too feminine” or if he enjoys activities that are mostly associated with women, he is often labelled as effeminate or a homosexual. Boys exhibiting such traits are often bullied by their peers who believe in the old notions of masculinity.

Because of these gender stereotypes, men often suppress a very important aspect of being human: the ability to experience and express a wide range of emotions. In many cultures, the display of affection and expression of vulnerabilities in times of distress are considered a weakness among men. As a result, men often miss the chance to experience the simple joys of caring for their children, being with their family and loved ones, or simply enjoying the things and activities they like.

For this reason, men need to have an active role in the advancement of gender equality. By helping establish a gender-equal society, they can be free to be themselves without the fear of being ridiculed or ostracised. They ideally may live in a world where their sons and daughters won’t have to suffer from prejudice, injustice, and discrimination.

Instead of blaming each other for inequalities and inequities, men and women need to reach a compromise and work together for the greater good of everyone. As the popular saying goes, “United we stand, divided we fall.”

Fortunately, there has been a remarkable improvement in the participation of men in the advancement of gender equality over the last few years. According to the European Commission, in the past, the “battle for gender equality has mainly been fought by women and for women” and related policies have been contextualised simply as a women’s issue. In the last decade, however, both genders are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the role of men in advancing gender equality as equal partners with women.

In Australia, initiatives such as the Male Champions of Change Program are also helping to drive change in advancing women’s representation in leadership and putting the topic of gender diversity back on the table as a moral and business imperative.

Let’s not let such efforts be in vain. We should all work together to break free from gender stereotypes and to ensure that in the future, all human beings will be treated equally and with respect, regardless of their gender.

Can you Make Dynamic Decisions on the Spot?

Decisions, decisions…we each make decisions every day. Some are simple decisions, such as what to eat or wear on a given day. Other decisions are a bit more complex, such as, Can I beat the traffic light, or should I stop?

Since we spend most of our waking moments making decisions, it would seem that we’d be easily able to make a dynamic decision on the spot. Unfortunately that is not always the case.

Why is it so difficult to make dynamic decisions?

In essence, you are not making one decision.  You are choosing a set of consequences – a series of decisions.  It’s like playing chess; if you move the queen to this spot, other actions are triggered as a result of your choice.

Often times there are visible, obvious obstacles or “roadblocks” that hinder us from making a decision. For example, we might feel as though we don’t have enough information to make a fair and balanced decision, so we put off making a decision until we can gather more information about the decision in question.

Other times these obstacles are ones that we create in our minds and these types of obstacles tend to be based on emotions rather than facts. We may have an emotional attachment to a person, or even a coveted object or position and we fear the repercussions that a specific decision may have on that loved one or object. Other times we may fear that we will “mess it up” or “make it worse,” so we sit on our hands vacillating back and forth between two or more possibilities rather than taking action because we don’t want to fail. After all, is it really failure if we didn’t really try? Sometimes these fears are founded, but many times these fears are not grounded in reality.

The Consequences of Indecisiveness

By allowing these roadblocks to continue, over time the decision often ends up being “taken out of our hands,” it’s made for us. Many individuals prefer it this way, they often feel as though they are absolved of responsibility and the resulting guilt if the decision is “made” for them by circumstances rather than under their own direction.

Allowing others, or “circumstances” to make decisions for you can be a very dangerous proposition. While you may temporarily breathe a sigh of relief that you don’t have to “bother” with the issue, when a decision is made for you, you are no longer in control and can no longer exert any influence on how the decision is reached or implemented. This result is that we often end up in a position that is not to our advantage.

In general, it’s best to take one’s fate into one’s own hands and make the best decision that we can based on the information that we have access to at the time rather than leaving oneself to the mercy of strangers, friends, employers, or even the whims of fortune.

Overcoming Indecision

How then, can we overcome these roadblocks and obstacles to effective decision making? The first step that we must take is that must learn to overcome our fears about making a decision and possibly making a mistake. Whenever we have difficulty making a decision, we need to be able to look at the situation honestly and ask ourselves, What, really is holding me back? If the obstacle is a legitimate concern, say, we need the most recent sales figures to decide whether to proceed with an expansion, then we need to expend every effort in obtaining the information that will remove the obstacle to a decision. Most obstacles, however, are emotionally based on fear, rather than reality.

How Can We Overcome the Fear of Making Mistakes?

The best way to overcome a fear, is to confront it head on. We need to examine our fears and shine the bright light of reason into the dark corner where fear resides. We need to honestly examine why we are afraid of a particular decision and then accept the fact that no one is perfect and take action anyway.

Most of the time, our worst fears are never realised. Even if we have made a mistake and the worst does come to pass, we have at least taken action. We need to give ourselves permission to be human and realise that even if make a mistake with a particular decision, risk is an inherent component of innovation, creativity and reward. Without it our lives are stagnate, boring and eventually we become obsolete.

Giving ourselves permission to be human, admit our fears and flaws and to then take action, even if we might fail, is imperative if we are to live life fully. This is true in our personal and professional lives, it is true for individuals and even businesses. Without facing our fears, and taking a risk, taking a chance, that we might succeed, even if we still might fail, is imperative for our survival. If you never take a risk, if you never make a decision, then one thing is guaranteed, you will fail. But if you take a chance and try, you just might succeed.

Making a decision then is taking a risk that you will be right and it beats the guaranteed alternative that you will always fail if you don’t try, if you don’t make a decision. This is why the most successful business owners, managers and companies strive to create a culture where it’s “okay to fail, but make the mistake and move on.”

Once you’ve faced your fears and other roadblocks and made a decision, it’s time to move forward, even if a particular decision was a mistake. Rather than “beating a dead horse,” and berating yourself, or perhaps an employee that has made a mistake, use that mistake as a learning opportunity. Figure out what you did right and wrong and then seek ways to improve performance.

Giving yourself and your employees’ permission to be human, to make mistakes, and move on, empowers both of you to have opportunities to learn and improve if you are wrong, but to also reap the greatest success when you are right.

Ricky Nowak is a high energy and dynamic Certified Corporate Trainer, Workplace Assessor and Behind Closed Doors Facilitator whose 25 years of corporate experience makes training sessions come alive with real learning. She is passionate about developing authentic business leaders and inspires the participants to contribute comfortably as she connects and communicates naturally with them.


Rural Sector in Spotlight as Ag Consulting Co’s Jeanette Long wins BCD Entrepreneurs Scholarship

Jeanette Long may be the winner of this year’s Behind Closed Doors’ (BCD) Entrepreneur Scholarship for South Australia but the flow on effect from her 12 month scholarship could provide real benefits for many women in the South Australian agricultural industry.

That’s the view of none other than the winner herself who, as Director of Ag Consulting Co, will look to use the experience to open new doors, tap into the minds of some of the state’s most influential women and seek to make a difference for women in the agricultural industry by developing their leadership skills and career aspirations.

Announcing the results at BCD’s quarterly Connexions event last night (September 2, 2014), the Founder and Managing Director of the leading business women’s professional development and mentoring company Donny Walford said Ms Long was a worthy winner of the 12-month scholarship valued at over $5,500.

“While the scholarship attracted an impressive array of applicants the judges felt that Jeanette was the standout winner and her career journey and entrepreneurial spirit was nothing short of inspirational.

“Jeanette has achieved so much as a female role model within the male dominated agricultural industry. Her passion is to make a difference for women and to provide opportunities to develop their leadership skills and career aspirations through training, mentoring and coaching.

“BCD’s Entrepreneurs Program will provide Jeanette with enhanced personal and professional skills that will contribute to fantastic work she is doing in the agribusiness sector,” Ms Walford said

Along with her husband Bill, Jeanette started Ag Consulting Co in 1995.  Since joining the business full-time in 2004, her role has included business and strategic management, overseeing staff as well as working within the business as a facilitator, trainer and coach.

Jeanette’s focus has been to develop a range of services in the people development space, which has led to work facilitating the leadership and mentoring programs for rural women in Australia and with Agri-Women’s Development Trust in New Zealand.

Jeanette led the development and management of the National Partners in Grain program for 10 years, providing professional development to women and young people in the grains industry.

This year Jeanette was named as one of Emerald Grains 100 Women in Australian Agribusiness and she has also been selected as incoming President for the Australasia Pacific Extension Network.

Runners-up for the scholarship were Jodie van Deventer, Managing Director of van Deventer Public Relations and Communications and Marissa Schulze, Managing Director of Rise High Financial Solutions.