For several decades now, women have fought for equality in the workplace. Men are told to think like a woman and women are told to act like a man. But the advice tends to reinforce stereotypical traits like empathy for women and aggressiveness for men. And while these stereotypes are often exaggerated, research shows gender characteristics do exist and play an influential role in the workplace.
Even though more women have entered the workforce and have risen in the ranks, they haven’t become male clones. Indeed, men and women can be just as different in the professional world as they are in their personal lives. What executives are just beginning to understand is that these differences can be great for business.
Typically, “men are linear in thought process and more narrow in their focus, so they are able to break down problems into their component parts and solve it,” says Keith Merron a senior associate Barbara Annis & Associates, a consulting firm specializing in gender diversity. “Women more often see a problem holistically and are able to coming up with an understanding of that situation without needing to know what all the parts are. When it comes to problem solving – particularly in business – you need a balance of both perspectives.”
BATTLE OF THE SEXES
Though most experts agree that a balance of gender in the workplace is ideal, studies show that women tend to excel in some areas and men excel in others. While today’s business culture more often associates masculine attributes with success (women still earn 81 percent of what their male counterparts do, according to the Labor Department’s 2010 data), there’s no evidence to suggest that hiring more men will drive a company’s bottom line. According to available research, here are some strengths of each gender in the workplace:
They’re team players. A 2005 study on gender bias by New York research group Catalyst found that women leaders are typically judged as more supportive and rewarding, whereas men are judged better at behaviors such as delegating and managing up. In another 2005 study by Caliper, a professional services consulting company, women demonstrated higher levels of compassion and team-building skills.
They’re persuasive. Women leaders scored significantly higher than male leaders in persuasiveness and assertiveness, according to the Caliper study. They were able to “read situations accurately and take information from all sides,” write the authors. “This willingness to see all sides of a situation enhanced their persuasive ability.”