What Women, Men Can Learn from Each Other in the Workplace

Don Tennant

Colleen Aylward, the outspoken executive recruiter whose advice to technology professionals is to "man up" and stop blaming foreign competition and age discrimination for their job woes, has made it clear that while that admonition is not a gender statement, there are plenty of workplace gender statements to be made.


Aylward, founder and president of Devon James Associates, an executive recruiting firm in Bellevue, Wash., said there are specific male and female traits that tend to be positive influences in the workplace, and that, consequently, the two genders have a lot to learn from each other about positive workplace behavior. For starters, Aylward gave a couple of examples of what women can learn from men:

I think women can take a lesson in not being so sensitive. And women still carry grudges -- they compete with other women in a never-forgiving, never-ending kind of way. Men have learned that competition is kind of fun, and they'll go out for a beer with their main competitor. They get bored if they don't have a good competitor.

Conversely, Aylward said, men could take a few lessons from women in multitasking and keeping calm in a crisis:

Women, especially if they've been mothers, have a distinct capability to multitask. We throw that word around a lot-I'm not talking about watching TV and texting at the same time. Multitasking is you never walk into a room without something in your hand from the other room that needs to go there. In the boardroom, if you have a huge project that needs to get done, women will do the strategy and the tactic at the same time-they don't care. That's just a female characteristic, I'm not saying that every female has that. They're also a little bit more calm in a crisis. What I witness myself in boardrooms is when things get heated, men get more heated verbally, and women get more calm. I don't know why that is. But men will go, "No, that's bullshit, that can't be done, that's a stupid idea! I'm going to go up to the whiteboard and show you why that won't work!" Women will sit there and go, "Uh-huh, what I'm saying is " There's also a female quality of reading between the lines, which is good: "Well, I understand what that customer is actually saying." On the bad side, they read between the lines in everything a guy says, and he didn't even mean anything.

What's causing a lot of angst in the technology sector, meanwhile, isn't so much the gender pay gap, Aylward said, but rather the disproportionately low number of women in executive positions:

You see a lot of technology companies, regardless of pay scale, where they're all men-it's still a pretty male-dominated world in technology. Here in Seattle we have a lot of Asians from Canada and from all over, and they're sharp enough to have gone into the technical field and tend not to go into the management ranks. They're very well-educated, and they make a lot of money. So they tend to be paid at the same rate. But in management, I do see it, especially in the venture-capital ranks-not a lot of women, and the women who do make it are pretty tough. So you just don't see a lot of equity at the boardroom table.

I asked Aylward whether men tend to be more assertive than women are in asking for what they think they're worth. Her response was consistent with the findings of the Catalyst study that I wrote about yesterday in my post, "Study Busts Gender-Gap Myth That 'Women Don't Ask'":

I think [men] are more assertive in fluffing up their titles. Women tend to be a little more insecure about [highlighting their own accomplishments]. I can tell a male resume vs. a female resume without looking at the name. It's the action words, the driven quality. Men will use phrases like "singlehandedly overcame." Women will say, "assisted in overcoming."

That said, Aylward noted that she largely agrees with the contention that women tend not to be as tough at negotiating as men are:

Especially if they're mothers, [women] want to be peacemakers. Traditionally, we are the cornerstone of the health and survival of the family, so it's kind of the same concept-let's just move on, let's make peace, everybody get along because there's way too much here to do. Men, traditionally, have the thumping of the chest and say, "I win." However, I do see that in some women as well, so that's just a male trait in a female body.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 22, 2011 4:40 PM Dolores Dolores  says:

A classic on this topic I "Games Mother Never Taught You" by Betty Lehan Harrigan.

Oct 23, 2011 12:59 PM Free HR Webinars Free HR Webinars  says:

Aylward is correct that the ever-increasing integration of men and women in the workplace can benefit both genders by allowing them to learn a few things about business etiquette from each other.  On the other hand, some adversity still exists as a result of the fact that the executive positions are still mainly male-dominated.


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