1. Know thyself
Becoming 'Gender Bilingual'
10 TIPS for Managers
by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, Publisher WOMEN-omics
1. Know thyself
Self-awareness is a key requirement of good leadership. It is a particularly important part of ‘gender bilingual’ leadership. In managing across genders, you need to know what part of your thinking, reactions and emotions are influenced by your gender and gender assumptions. We all, men and women, have assumptions in our minds. We need to become more conscious of what they are. Without knowing who you are, and why, it is hard to manage people who aren’t like you. International managers need to leave their home countries to discover how much a product of their own culture they are. Male managers, in male-dominated companies, need to experience female dominated events, conferences or meetings, to discover just how different their own behaviours and preferences may be. Female managers, many of whom have adapted to dominant male norms, need to recognise that they have done so, and that not all women want to do the same.
2. Don’t assume anything
Many managers make assumptions about women without asking them directly. For example, one manager admitted that he had not offered a transfer to the US to one of his direct reports because she had just recently had a second child. His motives were good, he didn’t want to pressure her. But he found out later that she very much wanted the job. She was so frustrated that a position she thought she merited had been offered to a male colleague without ever being discussed with her that she quit. In the current context, with so many changing roles and motivations, men and women are increasingly difficult to predict. The old models and ideas that we all have in our heads may no longer be relevant. So don’t assume you have the answers or know what is best for someone. Ask them.
3. Learn the difference
For much of the past 50 years women have been pushing to be treated equally and the same. And most managers honestly try to respond to this request. Good managers pride themselves on their egalitarian credentials. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t work. I believe it is one of the root causes of why women’s progress into leadership has been so slow. Women and men are not the same in a myriad of interesting and complementary ways. Why would we want to be? After a generation of corporate women behaving as much like men as possible, most everyone is ready to admit that this approach does not produce terribly attractive role models. But accepting different behaviors from women in the corporate world remains a challenge. Just yesterday, I had (another) manager telling me how aghast he was that a senior woman that reported to him had broken into tears. He thought she was being inappropriately emotional. But he thought nothing, that same week, of yelling angrily at the same person. That wasn’t being emotional… We’re all emotional, we just express emotion, and many other things, a bit differently. Women cry, men yell. Do you judge one deficient and the other permissible? Learn the difference.
4. Don’t take NO for an answer
Women sometimes will turn down promotions, to the great consternation of their managers, who are seeking to promote women. I suggest not taking the ‘no’ at face value. Try and find out what is behind it. Usually there are worries about managing the time, the travel or the demands. But there are only 24 hours in any manager’s day, and women sometimes underestimate their abilities (as research has found men sometimes overestimate theirs). Managers who know this, work to get to ‘yes’. Managers who don’t, take the ‘no’ and conclude that women simply don’t want to be promoted.
5. Push, support, risk, promote
One of the least-understood roles of ‘bilingual’ managers is to pull women into management. At the risk of being politically incorrect, most women (in this generation and probably the next) are not going to push into power. Most managers would conclude that they either don’t want it, or aren’t ready to exercise it. But I question the underlying assumption: that only those ‘hungry’ for power are able to wield it. In the current financial crisis, the opposite seems truer to me. I would love to have more people in power whose primary goal isn’t to get it. I know very few successful women who didn’t have at least one exceptional manager who pulled them into a big growth phase. Some consider promoting a woman a ‘risk.’ I think it is time to start seeing that not promoting them might be riskier.
6. Draw the line in the sand
In some organisations (depends on the corporate culture as well as the country you’re in) sexist jokes or comments are not uncommon. Groups often ‘test’ a woman in this way, to see if she’ll be a good sport, or whether they can test her mettle. It’s not up to the minority in the room to set the behavioural norms. In corporate hierarchies, it’s up to the most senior person to draw the line in the sand on what are acceptable comments. And remember, anything that you accept, becomes acceptable.
7. Sell diversity (and buy it)
Gender balance is not the easiest topic to sell. Many senior people now think the business case is so obvious it no longer needs explaining. I’d disagree. Most managers haven’t thought a lot about this topic, and feel that they have been hearing about it for far too long. Yet the data and figures on women as talent and women as consumers have recently becoming so compelling as to be an easier and far more convincing argument to make. But they still need to be persuaded. Learn the data (it’s all in our book Why Women Mean Business), and then if you are convinced, start proselytising. Unbelievers still exist…
8. Vet your partner
Many of today’s senior male leaders have wives that do not work, particularly in some countries. Some have gone to school mostly with other men. They are not necessarily very familiar with the motivations and aspirations of today’s professional woman. Many managers assume that all women share some of the characteristics they have observed in their wives at home. Nothing could be further from today’s realities. ‘Women’ have become wildly diverse, and women’s choices can differ very dramatically. Be careful of any assumptions you might make about what women want, drawn from what your wife wants…
9. Choose to choose
Promoting gender balance is not an HR issue, not a diversity issue and not a women’s issue. It’s a management and leadership issue. It’s up to you whether you decide this is an issue that is worth investing time, effort and interest in. The data suggests that your team, your company and your bottom line will benefit. The rest is up to you.
10. Become BILINGUAL
Most international managers have understood the importance of learning the language and culture of the Chinese. In the 21st century, we’d suggest that leadership will also require learning the language and culture of women. Becoming fully gender bilingual means understanding the differences between genders in order to optimise the talents, complementarities and opportunities of both men and women.
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