I’m inspired to write this based on an online newspaper article I read 2 months ago about a female, Emirati mechanical engineer who was making a plea for change in male dominated industries (see full article at https://www.thenational.ae/uae/government/emirati-women-s-day-mechanical-engineer-calls-for-change-in-male-dominated-industries-1.622927).
My starting point is to say that the WEF Global Gender Gap Report (2016) makes it abundantly clear that men and women and the whole of human society all stand to gain by achieving a Planet5050 and full gender parity in health, economics, education and politics. As such, we’re in this together, and although women may be working very hard, nay, fighting, to make it into hard to reach senior positions in so-called male dominated industries, it’s not just them who have to do all the work to make the transition an easier one. It’s also up to men too. And it isn’t just a case of “If you can’t stand the heat, stay in the kitchen!” Men also have to be prepared to meet women half way, even in the board room, and change their behaviours too perhaps.
Perhaps having reached a position of senior authority and leadership in an organization, a person may have subscribed all their hard working life to models and theories of leadership that bolstered a ‘one man leads the ship’ leadership style. Typical theories and models that would give them confirmation bias in this regard would include ‘Great Man Theories’, ‘Trait Theories’ and many ‘Behaviouralist Theories’ of leadership. These models give rise to thinking that leaders are born, or the potential to be a leader can be predicted and measured, or at least people can be trained to behave as a so-defined leader should in certain circumstances. The mold is set and leadership is a pretty narrowly defined, patriarchal, sometimes head swelling and arrogant, condescending affair. Obviously, those who hold fast to such beliefs of leadership may have a hard time giving leeway to someone, a woman perhaps, arriving in the boardroom, who doesn’t necessarily display the expected list of characteristics. They just aren’t man enough. They don’t fit the My Fair Lady, Henry Higgins model of leadership – ‘why can’t a woman be more like a man?’
But my argument is that they shouldn’t have to be. Authentic leadership, servant leadership, transformational leadership, distributed leadership and collegial leadership models all allow for a greater diversity of starting points that would integrate an array of different people engaging in leadership roles in an organization and beyond. So, based on Mariam Al Hendi’s viewpoint as expressed in the above mentioned news article, here’s some tips for all who mix in a two gendered workplace:
1) Actively listen to the voice of the other gender
2) Nurture the curiosity of newbies in environments they aren’t used to working in
3) Make the other person feel comfortable
4) Be approachable
5) Encourage the participation of the other gender in single-gender dominated meetings
6) If someone appears to be lacking the ability to chip in, perhaps invite their views and input
7) If you are mixing in a one gender dominant work situation – e.g. around the coffee machine or water cooler, or another break time semi social context, make the effort to reach out to a minority person
8) If someone looks like they are having a socially awkward time of it, what can you do to help break the ice and include them?
9) Consider that excluding people is a form of bullying and that you might not like it if the boot were on the other foot
10) Include the other gender in your water cooler or coffee machine chats – don’t exclude them by talking about subjects they might be unfamiliar with
11) Don’t be patronizing
12) Work it out
13) Make it work
14) Make the other gender feel heard, seen and recognized
15) Acknowledge what the other gender says – don’t just listen and then move on quickly
16) Make the other gender feel included, and an equal and an effective part of the team
17) Use emotional intelligence
18) Ditch aggressive behavior
19) Don’t retaliate to hostile behavior but deal with it in an appropriate way
20) Don’t stay in your comfort zone – work on being 10% braver: whichever gender you are, it’s up to all of us to bridge the gender gaps!
What tips do you have? Please add in comments below!