Women’s Style of Workplace Communication
By Cheryl Stein
Monster Business Coach
The good news is that there has been a huge change in how women see themselves in the workplace. In a recent study by N. Scott Taylor of the University of New Mexico, presented to the Academy of Management in August 2009, women were found to have made great strides in how they view themselves organizationally in comparison to a generation ago. Studying Multi Source Feedback, Taylor found that when women managers were asked to rate their own leadership qualities, they rated themselves equally to men.
Multi source feedback is a tool that companies use to help individuals understand how they are viewed. Performance is rated by the individual, by their peers, by the people who report to them, and by their supervisors. This type of feedback gives a global view of the individual and helps to determine gaps or areas of growth. Thirty years ago, working women generally did not have the confidence to rate themselves equally to men so this change is certainly a positive step in the right direction.
The one disturbing finding in the study, however, is that when women were asked to predict how others would rate them, they predicted much lower ratings than how people actually rated them.
Men, on the other hand, predicted how others would rate them quite accurately. In other words, women don’t think that other people think that they are doing as good a job as they know they are doing. Men don’t have this problem at all. They have the confidence to believe that people think that they are doing a good job. While there was a less significant difference in how younger women predicted their ratings, woman managers of age 50 and over predicted their ratings three times lower than men did.
Gender Differences in the Workplace Still Exist
It wouldn’t be of service to anyone if we denied gender differences in the workplace. Men and women are different. We think differently, we communicate differently and we behave differently and there is nothing wrong with this fact if we use it to our advantage or if we keep it in mind.
In my experience as a coach, a significant gender issue that women have to overcome is the need to receive positive feedback to know that they are doing a good job. Women have a hard time realizing that as long as nobody is saying anything, it usually means that they are doing okay. Women, unlike men, wait for that nod of approval to feel good about their performance, whereas men without any external validation.
Beth Banks Cohn and Roz Usheroff , in their article titled “He Said, She Said” write that, “ Because men don't solicit feedback, good or bad, they also don't give feedback in return. Males don't want to be criticized, feel that compliments make someone less effective, and think women who seek feedback are "needy" and "high maintenance."
This causes women to feel that, “men don't value their contributions and are overly critical. They may even feel that men withhold positive feedback in order to avoid giving women promotions or good projects.”
It is this common gender difference that is at the heart of this discrepancy in how women think that they are viewed in the workplace. The authors suggest that a middle ground needs to be found where women get what they need to feel encouraged but that it is done in a way that is acceptable to the men in the organization.
In Taylor’s study, his findings lead him to suggest that prediction should become an essential component of Multi Source Feedback. You simply learn more about yourself when you compare how you think people view you with how you are actually viewed, especially if you are a woman. It is my opinion that organizations need to do more to bridge this gap in awareness. Proper development of a workforce dictates that your people should know how they are viewed and valued as a rule not as an exception. And if gender differences require different kinds of feedback then optimal organizational functioning would best be served providing all your people with what they need.
What can you do?
Gender Awareness Training
A little gender awareness training goes a long way. If men and women are in fact different from each other, get someone like Roz Usheroff of the Usheroff Institute to train people in your organization on gender differences. Teaching people how to get the best out of the people that they work with is never a waste of time or money.
Women’s Mentoring Programs
Establish mentoring programs where successful women take newer female workers under their wings. Having someone helping you climb the ladder and who is championing your cause will reduce the instances of prediction gaps.
Establishing a coaching program where women work on feeling the intrinsic value of their work will help them get over the need for external approval. Alternately, using coaches to help the men in your organization understand how to give women the feedback that they need to excel will create winning conditions for everyone.
Make it a priority to make people aware of how they are valued. Don’t wait for the performance review to tell people that they are doing okay. Give them little pats along the way.
While women in the workplace have come a long way, it is clear from this study that we are not yet at a point of gender parity. Let’s focus on the positive and keep moving forward.