Mercury and Venus. Yin and Yang. Sun and moon. Men and women are often described as polar opposites, sometimes complementary but often at odds. However, gender differences are often overstated and based in little more than stereotype, especially when it comes to how men and women function in the workplace. The most important thing to know about gender differences at work is how few differences there really are, and how essential it is that employees be evaluated on merit, not on biology.
Different Labels for the Same Traits
Some of the perceived differences between the sexes come down to personal prejudice. People who don�t want to work for female bosses often claim that they are petty, moody, jealous or backstabbing. Those who don�t want to work for male bosses describe them as power hungry, egocentric or domineering. Essentially, male and female leaders behave the same way but their behavior is perceived differently because of their gender. Both men and women can be overly emotional, domineering or nitpicky. Both can also exhibit strong leadership and a cool head under pressure. The difference is in the individual, not their sex.
Some perceived gender differences at work are rooted in a grain of truth. It is true that men and women can have different work styles. Women may be more open to collaboration, whereas men often prefer to work alone. Women may be more supportive colleagues, while men may be more direct. However, again these are only stereotypes. There are plenty of women who excel at independent work, and plenty of men who are warm and personable. Managers should get to know their employees and lead by example, interacting with each as an individual with a multi-faceted personality and unique skills and abilities.
Recent research has debunked the myth that the brains of men and women are essentially different, and that research may pave the way for greater understanding of how culture has played a greater part than biology in forming our perception of gender differences at work. While the researchers found a few structural differences between men and women, there was significant overlap between the brains of males and females. For example, while men tend to have a slightly larger left hippocampus, some women had a larger left hippocampus than most men, and some men had a smaller left hippocampus than most women. When the structures of all zones typically described as �more male� and �more female� were examined together, very few brains conformed entirely to the expected makeup of their gender. For the workplace, this means that while there are certain abilities and personality traits that are stereotypically male or female, few employees are accurately defined by those clich�s.
One of the problems with treating men and women differently is that it can lead to a number of legal issues. Sex discrimination laws protect both men and women from being treated unfavorably because of their gender. All employees must be hired, fired, evaluated and promoted fairly based on their performance, not their sex or gender. In addition, the Equal Pay Act states that men and women who work for the same company and perform the same job must receive equal compensation. Sexual harassment can also be a source of tension and even legal action. Managers can provide training for employees to ensure both men and women are prepared to give only appropriate attention to their coworkers. They can also increase awareness of gender-related issues. Some laws do recognize gender differences at work and make provisions for the gender-related needs of some employees. For example, employers must provide special accommodations to support nursing mothers.
One way to change gender bias in the workplace is to change the language we use when our future leaders are children. Girls who take charge are often labeled �bossy�. As they grow older and enter the workforce, that label can change to �bitchy�. Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg has been called both, and she advocates banning �bossy� and instead praising girls for their budding leadership skills. Not only will this validate their take-charge attitude, but it will send a message to their peers that it is perfectly acceptable for children of both genders to lead the pack. Business is often concerned with understanding. We work to understand our customers and our clients. We take care to avoid cross-cultural misunderstandings and go out of our way to understand the ways we may be misinterpreted when interacting with those from a different background. The resources here at Mighty Recruiter can help companies to avoid these misunderstandings, as well as those rooted in misperceptions about gender differences at work.