If you were invited to write a short memo on gender sensitivity at workplace, what would be top two or three things you'd advise men to be aware of when interacting with their female colleagues (bosses, peers, and juniors)?
Three things - one sad and the other positive. Let's get the sad out of the way.
Never have a meeting alone with someone of the opposite sex with closed doors unless others in close proximity know that the meeting is taking place. (In my case the meetings were calendared and my Admin Assistant was right outside the door.) It can give the wrong impression to the other person OR to others and lead to potentially a lack of defense against unmerited sexual harassment accusations.
Ok now on to the positives.
1. Don't treat women like men. Don't expect them to act like men, think like men or lead like men. Accept that each individual, irrespective of gender, needs to find their personal leadership style and find out what works for THEM and for those whom they lead. And appreciate the different styles of leadership based on their effectiveness - that should be the standard.
2. Allow people the chance to fail because if you deny them that, you also deny them the chance to succeed. Be bold in staffing and enable people to grow because they are stretched. If you box them in or cosset them, you are basically saying - " you are not good enough to succeed based on your ability so I will protect you." How insulting. And I have seen perfectly well intentioned leaders fail to allow women to grow to their full capability because they wouldn't allow the chance to fail.
Hmm very good question, Vivek. I think John Sequeira Julian Dalzell and John Holmes might have some good insight.
As for me, I think it's always a good idea to leave preconceived notions behind. Sallie Krawcheck said it best at her recent Ellevate launch -- a lot of times we create these ideas of how women in power are (big, mean and intimidating) even before we meet them. So we basically go in with a guard.
I believe that men can sometimes interact differently with female colleagues by placing them in these sort of boxes. Just my two cents.
Interesting response Julian Dalzell. I would have never guessed the first point as important. I would be curious to know if women also feel the same way. Comments Katie Mehnert, Ally Ninjaneer (our official bouncer), Clare McNamara, Robin Dupre, Paula Waggoner-Aguilar, Mary Burtner?
About the other two (positive) points, I completely agree. When I was the CO of a regiment and we had our very first lady officer posted to the unit, in my opening interview I told her two things.
1. To senior engineers (men and women): don't belittle those who have less experience than you
2. Examine any and all sources of bias and negative emotional cycling (thought patterns about relationships)
3. Beware of how you perceive your daughters, wives and sisters and if there are any of those similar relationships that you would bucket women into at work
First of all, Vivek...I admire your courage for asking and admire anyone else who comments. This is PRECISELY the kind of conversation I'm hoping to see happen in Pink Petro. I didn't think we'd get here in 7 days but we are here.
There was a time early on when I felt like I needed to try hard to fit in and be like the guys. I admit it. Gender sensitivity was big for me between the "end of work" and the "networking social hours" on business trips. I travelled a lot in my time at Shell and BP and also did short term international stints. Define "work" hours when we work in a global environment, though. 9-5 doesn't exist anymore and on business trips you're technically on work hours no matter what. The guys used to jest at the pub that HR policies didn't matter in different time zones and I was always told it was about what local policies were (as if I knew?!?) I know Jullian as a former HR leader you'd cringe to hear that but I often wondered if I was the only one who found socializing after work yet on a business trip, to be somewhat awkward. I wanted to fit in and build relationships but there's no textbook for that! I always stayed out long enough and then excused myself (or tried) to before the drinking got crazy. My point in bringing this one up is ... there needs to be some education about this and making someone feel included without having to be the fuddy dud at the pub.
And I cannot agree with you ore Julian on the bit about giving women the chance to fail. I find most of the reason why people aren't satisfied in their careers is because no one is giving them the chance to try or encouraging them to go for it. You never know what you're going to get when you give people the chance to show what they have. I say bring it!
Thank you Katie Mehnert and every one who has responded so far. I asked such a question because I wanted to be educated on this rather "touchy" (pun intended ) subject.
There have been times when, in spite of best of my intentions, I have come across as brash and overbearing. And until I received feedback from others I had absolutely no clue that I was coming across as such. And so it always helps to seek and learn from different perspectives. In the following journal published in the fall of 2006 I share one such story from my MBA training days "Surprising Pitfalls of Teamwork Training - Businessweek".
Robin Dupre raises an interesting point. Preconceived notions lead to gender biases as opposed to gender sensitivities--something I was acutely aware of, having observed them from close quarters. And Islin Munisteri brings out a valid point about not belittling your juniors. I think in many cases it might be happening inadvertently. But unless we are aware of such possibilities we cannot do anything about it.
Coming to the point of fitting in, I agree. It must be a challenge especially when trying to be "one of the boys". And while it may all be in the right spirit, its toll could be high. As Julian Dalzell says don't expect women to act, think, and lead like men. Reminds me of a quote from Einstein about being authentic and true to yourself.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Vivek Bhatnagar Julian Dalzell thought you might find it interesting that I ran my response by 2 senior friends before publishing (YES if that is any indication - its uncomfortable to talk about!). So in that spirit of feedback and sharing, here's too learning and growing in a positive way from our dialogue. Here are 3 things:
1) The equation is not just about treating people equally but judging them and assessing their performance using the same rule stick. This is big management and C Suite challenge. For example, a leadership team may engage in a tense debate on any number of subjects. Women may debate along with male peers. The challenge sometimes is a woman may take a strong position and her debating behavior is judged as being too bold (you know, having too much BIG GUTS), or assertive/aggressive, or even inappropriate (for a WOMAN) - whereas other peers are praised for their passionate fearless leadership. You get the idea.
Interestingly - this issue goes both ways. Women must also apply the same concept in their assessment of other women vs. male colleagues. It really gives me pause on occasion - I find myself stopping and whipping out my own mental yardstick and re-calibrating my response.
2) It is the not so obvious stuff that is the challenge. I have seen a couple of situations where someone compares a female colleague or their female boss in a meeting to a celebrity (I believe they honestly meant the comment as a complement) and unintentionally undermines the boss or colleague by redirecting their "contributions to the conversation" at hand (and the other participant's attention) to "assets of a personal nature".
3) When women cry in the workplace – they often do so because they are angry and they are restraining their emotions. It is NOT because they are WEAK.
So why do women hold back? In my opinion, they may have learned to hold back because of past generational norms (you know kind of like THE RULES of debate in Downton Abbey...LOL), self confidence, and it also likely a circuitous issue - it goes back to item no. 1 above.
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