John Gray specializes in the communication (or lack thereof) between the sexes. A family therapist, and author of the 1992 bestseller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, he has most recently turned his attention to how gender differences play out at work.
WHAT'S AT THE ROOT OF COMMUNICATION CHALLENGES BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN AT WORK? First of all, let's be clear that everything I say is a generalization. I'm not claiming all women or men feel or act any particular way, but these are patterns I see quite commonly.
One way to characterize the way the sexes do business differently is that on Mars there are rules, while on Venus there are manners. Fundamentally, it's the way they approach solutions, starting with the listening process. Men need to win the trust of women by learning how to listen--women claim men never listen, and I've heard 17 reasons why they believe this. One of them is that a woman will start to talk, the man thinks he sees where she is going and gets antsy, so he interrupts and gives her a "solution." She thinks, "He didn't hear me out, he doesn't value what I say." Women want to spend more time sharing thoughts about a problem before looking at a solution. He thinks she's indecisive because she didn't get to the solution right away. He thinks she didn't have a solution, but he didn't actually ask for one, just offered his own. My advice to male managers is that if you don't want to have the whole conversation, interrupt with a question, not a solution.
THE DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO PROBLEM SOLVING ARE PROBLEMS IN AND OF THEMSELVES. Right. Let me give another example. Two women are standing by a copy machine talking about how it doesn't work right. A guy comes by, and they ask him why it hasn't been fixed. The women are bonding, building the team, and coming to the best solution through sharing ideas. But the way the man sees it, they're wasting time complaining, so he points out that there's a copier down the hall. That alienates them. If he had had Mars-Venus coaching, he'd have known to say something empathetic before offering a solution. Acknowledge the hassle of getting the copier fixed.
On the other hand, if a female manager had come by, she'd probably have found the guy trying to find out what was wrong with the copier without asking for help. She'd think he was wasting time by letting his macho ego get in the way. Both ways of dealing with the problem are actually due to how the male and female handle stress differently.
IN WHAT WAY? Women have three basic things that help them cope with stress. First is collaboration--working as a team. Second, harmony--working together in cooperation. Third, communication--sharing so that everyone knows what's going on inside everyone else. These processes actually cause women's bodies to produce a hormone, which is their best way to deal with stress. The best stress-protection mechanism for men is testosterone. It makes them feel they can accomplish things. When men are confident they can solve a problem, their stress levels go down. We're firemen who want to put out the fire as fast as we can. We go immediately to a solution.
HOW DO MEN AND WOMEN DIFFER WHEN IT COMES TO GIVING AND RECEIVING CRITICISM, OR SHOWING APPRECIATION? Men think that if they don't complain, that shows appreciation. Women say that on Venus, appreciation has to be overtly expressed, and good managers show interest by being involved.
Generally, men handle criticism in a hierarchical fashion. The boss doesn't have to convince a male employee, just tell him what he wants him to do: "Don't call Bill, call Phil." Women prefer to get feedback--"Don't you think you might get a better answer from Phil than Bill?" Men may react, "Why do you ask me what I think when you're the boss?" They feel there is some manipulative agenda, while the female boss is expressing Venusian manners by not being confrontational, asking if together they can't come up with a better solution.
I advise women managers to be more direct. Women managers or even co-workers will also ask questions to gather information because they want to improve things. Men are likely to feel that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and that the women are wasting time talking about fires that don't exist. Female employees want to discuss the options with their managers. They feel the typical male manager is too authoritarian and makes them feel incompetent. When it comes to criticism, women tend to take it personally; men experience it with more distance. Women feel men should be asking for help to understand why women do things a certain way.
HOW SOLID IS THE GLASS CEILING? A survey of the top money-making women in the U.S. asked what was responsible for their success. The answer they most consistently gave was "exceeding expectations." In other words, they have to perform better than a man might in a similar position to be recognized. However, most women are not obsessed with getting to the top, but with being rewarded equally.
What we're really talking about with regard to reaching the very upper levels of management is usually the need for an extreme Type A personality. Many women are not willing to make the sacrifices involved because they value the quality of their personal lives and relationships more than that. They're not as insane as men. --SCOTT SMITH
THE DREADED B-WORD
For women, it can be especially hard to get a point across without being labeled as, well, a bitch. Two women share their advice for getting ahead gently but firmly.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, STREETWISE PARTNERS
BE TRANSPARENT Let people know how you make decisions. "By explaining the criteria that are going into the choices you make, you are less likely to be perceived as judgmental or arbitrary."
PACE YOURSELF Let other people know about your time constraints and your workload. "You want people to understand what's on your plate, so if you don't get back to them within two hours they're not annoyed. Asking for feedback on projects is a great way to subtly communicate your workload."
NUMBERS ARE YOUR FRIENDS The way to businesspeople's hearts is often through the spreadsheets, says Datta, especially when they're male financial types. "When you're a young woman leader, it helps to do some quantitative analysis to back up what you're saying. Give them what they're comfortable seeing."
BRIDGET VAN KRALINGEN
MANAGING PARTNER, DELOITTE CONSULTING
HAVE REASON "Make sure you communicate a clear rationale for why you need to make a certain decision. Identify the key influencers, and work with them individually."
FOLLOW UP "Give people a chance to respond to your decision. If individuals seem resistant, make sure there is enough 'peer pressure' to make them move along."
BE DIRECT "Be careful not to frame statements as questions. Don't be afraid to raise direct challenges, saying, 'The implication would be x, so consider y' instead of 'What do you think about y?' However, do use questions to defuse high-tension situations." --SUMA CM
ROOM AND BOARD
BOARDROOM BOUND WANTS TO QUADRUPLE THE NUMBER OF WOMEN ON CORPORATE BOARDS BY 2015. CAN IT BE DONE?
In 1988, women constituted only about 11.1 percent of U.S. corporate board members. By the end of 2002, that number had crawled to 12.5 percent. For Boardroom Bound, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization devoted to changing the way companies select candidates for board service, these stats simply won't do. The group's ultimate goal is for women and minorities to hold 50 percent of all corporate board appointments by the year 2015.
The business scandals of the last few years may have helped: Many U.S. boardrooms are in a shambles, and Linda Bolliger, founder and CEO of Boardroom Bound, sees opportunities. "Enron, Tyco--they weren't just isolated incidents, but rather the tip of the iceberg," Bolliger says. "Companies are seeking a new outlet for corporate board candidates that isn't tainted by the old process that produced the kinds of [scandals] you read about in the newspapers." In addition to promoting greater corporate accountability and stewardship, increasing the numbers of women in the boardroom just makes good business sense: "Women and minorities make the majority of all consumer decisions, and yet, they're not represented at the apex of where policy is made."
But not just any plain Jane can reach this apex. Those that Boardroom Bound advances for corporate board duty have to be C-level executives (your CEOs, CFOs, COOs, and CIOs), company founders, top educators, cabinet-level public servants, or recognized leaders in the nonprofit arena. Technology and insurance companies, manufacturing firms, banks, and the hotel business have all come knocking on the Boardroom Bound door looking for candidates. Boardroom Bound then finds potential matches by scouring its databases.
How exactly does Boardroom Bound plan to reach its goal of 50 percent women and minorities on corporate boards over the next 11 years, especially given that the increase up to this point has been rather sluggish? Not to mention that the organization is still considered the new kid on the block and is just now in the process of rolling out a corporate awareness campaign. Bolliger believes that the first step must be expansion: Boardroom Bound plans to set up affiliate programs in at least six other cities (and hopes to announce the first of these in the coming months). "Once we get our first one up and running, it's a matter of time until it's like franchising," Bolliger says. "That's when you'll see a jump in numbers. The important thing is, we're in the ballpark now, we're playing the game. Now it remains to be seen if we'll get to the World Series. We can do a lot in 11 years." --ELIZABETH HERR
FOR A MAN, HAVING A MENTOR IS A GOOD IDEA. FOR A WOMAN, IT'S A MUST.
"I never would have gotten where I am without mentors," says Susan Butler, founder of the Susan Bulkeley Butler Institute for the Development of Women Leaders. Butler entered the workplace 35 years ago. "I had a job when I started," she recalls, "not a career. Now I tell people that it is important to have a career rather than a job. In order to have a career, you need one or several mentors."
So what makes a mentor so indispensable? "Mentoring is like a partnership," says business consultant Barbara Fagan. "It's all about assisting people in reaching their highest potential and finding their true calling. Today, women have come a long way. They owe their successes to their ability to multitask, but also to having had a mentor."
HOT TO PICK THE RIGHT MENTOR
GENDER MAY NOT PLAY A ROLE Choose someone you admire and trust. Of either sex. "A mentor is an advisor and a role model," says Butler. Choose a person in your company or alumni network whom you want to resemble.
STILL, CHOOSE SOMEONE WHO RESPECTS YOU AND CAREER WOMEN IN GENERAL "You need respect and support from your mentor in order to achieve your goals," says Fagan.
PICK SOMEONE WITH A DIFFERENT SKILL SET. "Look for several different people, with different types of skills you want to learn people who can open your mind," says Joan Michelson, president and CEO of Michelson/Cooper Marketing. That way, their knowledge will complement yours and you'll acquire expertise in other areas.
CHOOSE SOMEONE WHO HAS A HISTORY OF MAKING GOOD DECISIONS "Look for someone who's honest about failures as well as successes," says Leslie Grossman, founder of Women's Leadership Exchange (womensleadershipexchange.com). "You don't want someone who wants to paint a perfect picture you need to learn about the challenges and how to face them."
CHOOSE A PERSON WHO IS NOT YOUR SUPERVISOR "A mentor is a combination of best friend, therapist, and aunt. Don't let your boss be your mentor he or she has too much control over your career," says Michelson.
ASK THE MENTOR TO TEACH YOU Says Fagan, "You want someone who helps you move forward not someone who just assists you when you have problems." --POUPAK SEPEHRI
IF I HAD A HAMMER
CAN WOMEN IN THE GLASS CEILING INDUSTRY SHATTER THE GLASS CEILING? WE ASKED SANDY ZARDA , THE FEMALE VICE PRESIDENT OF MAJOR INDUSTRIES, A MANUFACTURER OF COMMERCIAL GLASS SKYLIGHTS BASED IN WAUSAU, WISCONSIN.
DO YOU FIND THERE'S A GLASS CEILING FOR FEMALES IN THE GLASS CEILING INDUSTRY? At this company, no. We treat everybody with respect for their strengths, their knowledge, and how they play as part of the team. We don't worry about what gender you are, what race, what religion, whatever. We have a few other females in supervisory positions.
ANYBODY AT YOUR COMPANY EVER MAKE A JOKE ABOUT THE "GLASS CEILING" EXPRESSION? No. Because of our company's philosophy and the moves I've been able to make, I don't think it even crosses people's minds.
HOW HARD WOULD IT BE TO, UM, LITERALLY BREAK THROUGH ONE OF YOUR GLASS CEILINGS? A meteor would have to hit that glass. It takes over 100 pounds per square foot to crack it. --ROB MEDICH
DO I GET FRIES WITH THAT?
YOU HAVE A JOB OFFER AND YOU'RE READY TO SIGN. HOLD ON. ARE YOU SURE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE GETTING INTO? CAROL GERSHOWITZ, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF HUMAN RESOURCES AT UNITED MEDIA, A DIVISION OF THE E.W. SCRIPPS COMPANY, SUGGESTS THAT WOMEN ASK SOME GENDER-SPECIFIC QUESTIONS.
IS THE WORKPLACE FLEXIBLE? "Can you work from home when you need to, or work flexible hours? Does the company offer on-site or nearby childcare, and does it contribute to the cost?"
INQUIRE ABOUT FAMILY-FRIENDLY POLICIES "For instance, do they offer reduced work hours upon returning to work after the birth of a baby? Is there a private room or area at the firm where new mothers can pump their breast milk? Is there a refrigerator to store it?"
WHAT ABOUT PREVENTIVE MEDICINE "How frequently does the health insurance cover mammograms, pap smears, etc.? Does the company cover birth control pills?"
DOES THE COMPANY SUPPORT WOMEN'S ISSUES? "Do employees participate in walks for, say, breast cancer research or volunteer in other ways?" --SUMA CM
WHAT THING OR OBJECT MOST EXEMPLIFIES THE ROLE OF TODAY'S WOMAN IN BUSINESS?
"The fax machine that also does duty as a phone, copier, scanner, and printer. Women are great multitaskers. It's our ability to smoothly handle numerous responsibilities simultaneously that defines our role and success in the workplace."
ILANA ZALIKA MANAGING PARTNER, PUBLIC I PARTNERS
"Rollerblades, since they symbolize speed, endurance, balance, and skill."
LISA BERKOWITZ PRESIDENT, BERKOWITZ & ASSOCIATES
"The computer network. Because: 1) We facilitate collaboration. 2) We store things and retrieve them when needed. 3) When we are not available, it drives everybody crazy."
LOIS MELBOURNE CEO, TIME VISION
"The windmill. It's clean, it works hard and rarely makes noise, it's low maintenance, and it just makes sense. Oh yeah--and it's incredibly underutilized because of the male-dominated entrenchment of the oil and gas industry."
SUSAN K. PETERSON VP BUSINESS SALES, RENEWABLE CHOICE ENERGY
"Remember the Weeble? It wobbles, but it never falls down. In business, you can't let a wobble or two bring you down. You have to bounce back stronger and better. Women are natural Weebles."
CAREY EARLE CEO, HARVEST COMMUNICATIONS
"Electricity. Because it's a necessity, not a luxury. Because it's easy to take it for granted, until it's gone. Because women have "normal" power and "emergency" resources to turn to as needed; sometimes a woman in business needs to tap into her emergency reserves."
JOAN BRYNA MICHELSON PRESIDENT/CEO, MICHELSON/COOPER MARKETING
WORKSHOP IT OUT
CYNTHIA BUSH AND the WHARTON WOMEN IN BUSINESS CLUB HELP FIRST-YEAR B-STUDENTS DEAL WITH INTERVIEW JITTERS.
Last January, first-year women at Wharton found themselves in the throes of anxiety over interviews for the all-important summer internships. Their guardian angel turned out to be Cynthia Bush, senior associate director of Wharton's MBA Career Management office (and a former investment banker herself). Bush, with leaders from the Wharton Women in Business club, set up an interview workshop for jittery first-year females. Having come to Wharton from the business world, Bush is tight with a bunch of line managers and recruiters and has first-hand knowledge of what they look for. "[We're] able to focus on individuals, as well as issues that the small group shares," she says of the student attendees. "One group asked me a lot about their clothing--pants versus skirts." In another setting, such a question might not have been broached, or even welcomed.
Though competition for the most desirable internships introduces more than a little rivalry between male and female first years, the interview workshop is designed to foster cooperation and comfort among the women, says Anita Pramoda, co-president of Wharton Women in Business and a participant in last year's pilot program (she's now busy planning the January 2004 sequel). She especially appreciated the opportunity to receive feedback from a group that shared her concerns, whether they were about fashion or, more broadly, about making a mark in traditionally male-dominated professions like consulting and investment banking.
It was a "small and safe environment to learn from one another," Pramoda says, one which she hopes to maintain for this year's crop of stressed-out first-year women before they enter interview hell. --ELIZABETH HERR
BROWNIE WISE AND THE TAO OF TUPPERWARE
THE BOWLS THAT BURP MAKE FOR A SURPRISINGLY RIVETING DOCUMENTARY.
In the 1950s, a decade not known for its enlightened attitudes toward women, a powerful Madison Avenue ad agency nonetheless advised a wildly successful company to capitalize on its most unique asset: its "charismatic female executive." This executive, a single mother named Brownie Wise who became the first woman to appear on the cover of BusinessWeek, was as celebrated for her stylish frocks as for her product: plastic bowls that burped.
"Anyone who looks that cute," Tupperware's curmudgeonly founder Earl Tupper wrote to Wise, "has no right to be so smart." Tupper was likely intimidated by her; Wise not only ran the company's sales division, but also perfected the idea of home-party plans and incentive strategies, which have been imitated ever since by direct-sellers like Mary Kay Cosmetics and The Pampered Chef. Yet Brownie's greatest achievement may have been empowering working-class women who longed for an identity outside the home. By selling Tupperware from their own living rooms and according to their own schedules, women could earn spending money as well as a profound sense of professional accomplishment without abandoning their domestic obligations. "The really successful ones even made more than their husbands," says Laurie Kahn-Leavitt, an Emmy-winning producer whose documentary Tupperware! appears this February on PBS's American Experience.
The documentary uses archival footage, original correspondence, and interviews with the first Tupperware Ladies, and of course, includes Wise's unceremonious dismissal following disputes over her spending and autonomy. But mostly the film debunks stereotypes. "Everyone thinks of women in the '50s as wearing poodle skirts, eating Cheese Whiz, and staying home," Kahn-Leavitt says. Indeed, Tupperware may be irrevocably and regrettably linked with obsequious housewives, but its saleswomen worked hard and made money. "By selling [the product] and promoting other women they brought into the business,"Kahn-Leavitt explains, "they put their kids through college, paid for homes, and took vacations they'd never dreamed of." --CATHERINE DUPREEE
Women entrepreneurs generate nearly $2.3 trillion in sales to the U.S. economy and employ 18.2 million people. Source: 'Completing the Picture: Equally Owned Firms in 2002,' Center for Women's Business Research.
The workforce employed by women-owned firms shows more gender equity than other businesses. Women business owners employ 52 percent women and 48 percent men, while male business owners employ an average of 38 percent women and 62 percent men. Source: 'Business Owners and Gender Equity in the Workplace,' as above
In the group of 25- to 36-year-old professionals, 30 percent of men and 10 percent of women believe that, all things being equal, a woman will be promoted over a man in their organization. Source: 'The Next Generation: Today's Professionals, Tomorrow's Leaders' (2001), Catalyst.
Among the 2,259 top-earning corporate officers in 2002's Fortune 500, 118 (or 5.2 percent) were women. Source: 2002 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners in the Fortune 500.
In 2002, one in every 11 adult women in the U.S. owned a privately held business. Source: 'Completing the Picture: Equally Owned Firms in 2002,' Center for Women's Business Research
While 97 percent of teenage girls plan to work to help support themselves or their families in the future, fewer than 10 percent anticipate a career in business. Source: 'Teen Girls on Business: Are They Being Empowered?' (2002), The Committee of 200.
While more than half of teenage boys say they want to be their own boss, only 31 percent of girls say they do. Source: 'Teen Girls on Business,' as above.
At the top levels of the Fortune 500 companies, Latinas hold a minuscule 25 out of almost 14,000 corporate officer positions. The top barrier to advancement, these women report, is an inability to find mentors within the workplace. Source: 'Advancing Latinas In the Workplace: What Managers Need to Know' (2003), Catalyst.
In 2002, there were 71 companies in the Fortune 500 with no women in their corporate-officer ranks. Source: 2002 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners in the Fortune 500.
--COMPILED BY ALEXSANDRA VALLEJO