For business women, this is a good time to be in the management ranks! Men and women managers today tend to describe their management skills and styles in terms that fit both their corporate culture (the boss’s style) and prevailing management jargon found in the latest business books.

Things Are Looking Up
For Women in Management!

Today’s jargon happens to be associated with consultative styles and high levels of interpersonal skills (incidentally, both associated with business women’s management styles) and is one reason these skills and styles are showing up in more and more successful companies. Might I hazard a guess that another reason they are more evident is because they work? John Naisbitt, who co-authored Reinventing the Corporation, believes that innovations such as flex-time, day-care and elder-care programs, parental leave and similar new policies are driving a “humanization” (notice I did not say “feminization”) of the workplace because most new jobs being created today are being filled by women.

This bodes well for business women!

The Age-Old Battle of the Sexes:
Who Makes a Better Manager?

In the trenches, reality is still playing catch-up to the new jargon. When both men and women are surveyed today, the successful managerial stereotype remains masculine – self-confident, dominating, competitive, decisive, aggressive and independent.

What surprises me is that while not all female managers any longer “sextype” the successful manager as male, no business men or business women identify the successful manager as using traditionally feminine traits and styles – consultative, conciliatory, partnership-oriented and collaborative - even though everyone agrees these are positive styles.

Cultural Conditioning
Results in Gender Stereotyping
for Women in Management

Business women use positions of authority to create a supportive, nurturing environment. Men use positions of authority to create a hierarchal environment in which they issue orders and expect obedience. (Webster defines a hierarchy as a body of people in authority or a grouping of people according to ability . . . or professional standing.)

As little girls, many women grew up to be obedient, to be a good friend, to keep diaries that expressed their deepest feelings, to take care of their dolls, and to help Mom, often with younger siblings. They saw little boys as monsters that teased them to the point of tears. When they complained to their mother or father, they were told “Just ignore him. He’ll grow out of it some day”, were patted on the head, and told to “run along”.

As little boys, many men grew up building forts and forming secret clubs for the exclusive benefit of themselves and their friends. This conditioning led them to see themselves in militaristic terms, part of a “good old boys network”, and they saw little girls as sissies, unable to compete and certainly not belonging in their well fortified “boys only” world. When their parents shrugged off their sometimes harmful antics with “oh well, boys will be boys”, they were given a green light to carry their behavior styles forward into adulthood.

Yet, while all this was going on, the girls were getting much better grades in school and becoming fast learners! So much for men’s skills being superior to women’s!

If you should ever doubt your skills in relation to those of your male counterparts . . . remember the immortal words of Faith Whittlesay, twice U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did! And she did it backwards in high heels”.

Communication Style Differences
Between Men and Women in Management

Communications is one of the two issues cited most often when business women are asked what they find most difficult to deal with at work. (The other is finding balance between work and family.)

The distinct ways men and women have of (mis)communicating with each other is the most frequent result of gender stereotyping. The result is a perceived power struggle. (I don't think any other word showed up in my research on gender differences in the workplace as often as the word "power" - see below.)

Women and men who work together often get tied up in communication knots, especially over issues that involve power, advocacy and managing their teams. That’s because the sexes have distinct ways of communicating. They request action and advice differently, their responses and timing are different, and they have different styles for expressing work-related demands and needs. And it’s all the result of that early social conditioning.

Getting past this communication gap is a matter of paying attention to gender differences, not just with co-workers, but probably with male customers and vendors too, then subtly building bridges over the communications divide.

Office Politics and Power

Office politics is ultimately all about having power. And, there's no standard definition of power. Who has political clout and power is determined first by the corporate culture (which reflects the values of the CEO) and second by the appetite of individuals in the organization to have that power (which reflects their own unique personality types).

Consider this: with a management position comes a certain aura of power. But men and women define and exercise it differently.You have to pinpoint the factors considered to have "power" in your organization.

Leadership Style Differences

Northwestern professor Alice Eagley, who specializes in the subject of gender differences, writes that there are a number of differences in the leadership styles of business men and business women.

Men’s styles are characterized as being:

  • task-oriented
  • autocratic
  • command-and-control
  • punishment-oriented

Women’s styles are characterized as being:

  • team players
  • democratic
  • transformational
  • reward-oriented

Ms. Eagley has found that prejudice toward female leadership styles restricts business women’s access to top leadership positions. The bias shows up when women are perceived as possessing less leadership ability than equivalent men or when the same leadership behavior is evaluated less favorably in a woman than a man.

Understanding that social conditioning created these style differences is a huge step to overcoming both communication and style gender gaps. The style differences were built in long ago and do not represent conscious choices being made today!

Changes in the Workplace
That Can Impact Women Managers

The workplace is a dynamic, ever-changing environment. Just when you think you’ve got everything figured out and know where you are going, a new wrinkle turns up. Here are several things that you need to be aware of. They may, or may not, impact you personally, but they may impact women, men or you.

  • Women are putting off retirement until later than they used to.
  • Women are taking time off (two plus years) to raise young children, then returning to work.
  • There is a feeling among some men that they need to be “politically correct” around women co-workers and resent what they perceive as preferential treatment for women.
  • And how about you? Surprisingly, it’s not uncommon for a woman who has accepted her first management position to wish she could have a “do-over” for a number of different reasons. If, after you’ve given it a good shot and decide your career is not being well served by staying in your new job, visit the Women Community Channel Career Opportunity Job Search Engine (opens new window).

    A word of advice: when you opt to leave one organization for another, always conduct your departure in a way that the employer you are leaving would be happy to rehire you! Your reputation follows you everywhere.

    The Huge Mistake for Women to Avoid

    Remember the scene at the railing in the movie “Titanic” when Rose asks Jack: “Teach me to act like a man. Talk like a man. Walk like a man. And spit like a man”?

    The Titanic sank in 1912 and no one then, man or woman, could even have conceived of today’s business women.

    The absolute worst thing business women can do is try and “act like men”! All that would do is make the men you work with feel even more uncomfortable watching you behave in what, to them, is a totally unnatural way.


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