When discussing office politics, either in class or in the course of professional conversations, I occasionally field the question, "Do men and women play office politics differently?" Those a little more enlightened modify the question to "HOW do men and women play office politics differently?"
Over the course of two decades of working and over 12 years of teaching, I've made a few observations on the gender front, but they've really solidified over the past couple of years. My conclusion is that perhaps we've been framing the male-female professional issue inadequately over the years. We've tried to brush away differences as non-existent or inconsequential, but it doesn't take a lot of research to show that the differences do exist.
The first major observation occurred over the past couple of years for me, once my daughter started school. Her "playground reports" at the end of the day really put one of my observations in a new light. She would make statements like:
- Little Boy 1 pushed so-and-so
- Little Boy 2 hit so-and-so
- Little Boy 3 took such-and-such away from so-and-so
- Little Girl 1 wouldn't talk to so-and-so
- Little Girl 2 said she wasn't my friend anymore
- Little Girl 3 said she wouldn't play with me if I played with so-and-so
Is it just me, or do we see a trend here? At a very early age, boys handle conflict directly and aggressively. Girls handle conflict passively and emotionally. When I thought back to many of my own observations from my workplace history, as well as those stories shared by colleagues and studends, it leaves me wondering if we really outgrow these behaviors as adults.
My second observation is that women are their own worst enemy. Whether the age of political correctness has toned down the male of the species or not, when holding discussions in class or in other professional settings, the women I've encountered are much more open and vocal about criticizing their own. Many of my female students have been very blunt about saying they'd much rather have a male manager than a female manager. This one intrigues me, and I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it.
My third and final observation goes to an exercise I've done in class and in workshops numerous times over the years. I'm kicking myself now that I haven't done a more scientific data collection on it. When I ask people to rank order their bosses from worst to best and then assign a gender value to them instead of the boss's name, the men come out in an almost perfect bell curve. In other words, there are a few really great bosses and and a few really bad bosses, but most of us just muddle in the middle. Women, however, tend to fall on a bi-modal curve; in other words, very few women are in the mediocre middle and instead fall at either end of the spectrum. Now, if we were to take a page from Kathy Sierra's playbook, perhaps we've been viewing women in the workplace incorrectly all this time. Have we ever considered the possibility that women brand themselves better than men do in the work place? After all, good brands are either loved or hated; there's little room for indifference.
Maybe, after all these years, instead of getting defensive about gender differences in the workplace, it's time we celebrate them for what they really are: personal branding success/failure stories.
But I'm just a guy. Maybe I should ask some of my favorite women bloggers to weigh in on this. So... Delaney, Liz, Ann, Valeria, Jane, Claire, Connie, Lisa, Franke, Lucia, Wendy, Kammie ... what do you think?