PERSPECTIVE ON THE WORK FORCE : Why Should Women Be Like Men? : The managerial ranks will improve if, as the gender gap narrows, the macho business style diminishes.
While Census figures released last Friday indicate that the number of women in management jobs rose 95% between 1980 and 1990, men still dominate. Most evidence shows that women are still disproportionately in the lowest tiers of management and in the lowest-paying industries.
I first noticed that girls were different from boys when I was about 4 years old. No experiences either in my personal life or in my business life have caused me to change my opinion. Throughout my adult life, however, I have had to evaluate again and again these gender differences and how they affect the way men and women relate to one another and to the environment in which they work. Working almost exclusively with women has given me insight I would never have gained in any other way.
Women are working at a decided disadvantage in the business world--still working in an environment created by men to make things comfortable for men. To me, this means men often understand the rules without having to be taught or even having to think about them. It is not so easy for women. If I may fall back on typically male sports terminology, women have had to learn both the game and the game plan at the same time.
Foremost in the different set of rules women seem to follow, at least in my own observation, is that women in business tend to be more honest than men. A direct question to a woman often results in a direct, frank response. This quality makes it more difficult for women to “yes” an employer. It also makes women more trustworthy than the men who often can’t, or won’t, give a straight answer to a question. Women are also more open than men about their feelings, their ambitions and everyday situations in the office. This makes them more vulnerable than men, who tend to play the corporate game very close to the vest. Traditionally, women in business have been more harshly judged than men. They have had to be better in a job than a man to get ahead. In my own observation, women are often more thorough and more detail-oriented than men are. However, while people with tenacious attention to detail are very competent in particular positions, they often fail to develop a broad overview. The successful business executive must see how each cog fits in the wheel and in which direction the wheel should be turning. I think men sometimes have an easier time with this than women because men have been taught to believe they would eventually become “big wheels.” While many younger women in the work force have had this advantage, the majority of women working today have not.
Another difference between working men and women is that men take more chances; men are more willing to gamble. Men are trained to be competitive and enjoy a real dog-eat-dog battle. Some women are, too; most aren’t. Men also shoot from the hip more. Our male employers have taught us we can do this, and even be off the mark, without great penalty. Women are often taught just the opposite--again, by male employers. Women seem to be, as a result, more thoughtful, more cautious, more prudent. For example, I have interviewed more than a dozen people for the job of advertising salesperson. Most of the candidates were women and, without exception, they wanted a substantial salary and a small commission. The men I saw, also without exception, wanted a substantial commission and a small salary. Women also seem more comfortable in staff jobs than line jobs, perhaps because they know that the price they will have to pay when they make a mistake is greater than the price men pay.
Of all the differences between men and women that I have noticed, one in particular stands out. I have never heard any man talk about fulfillment in a career. When I began working with women, I was quite surprised to hear the word used, and frequently. I think women have the right idea. Fulfillment should be a part of what both women and men expect from their professional experience. It seems to me a healthier, more sensible way to approach a career.
From listening to women, I have learned that they see traditional “male” business rules as not very nice--even dishonest. I agree with them. As women continue to rise in the work force, they will continue to positively influence and change the way business is conducted. That change will be better for both women and men.