Gender and the Business Environment Introduction
In the best selling book “Men from Mars and Women from Venus”, John Gray investigates the intrinsic differences between men and women in a way easily transferred to the business setting. John Gray speaks of women relishing love, communication, beauty and relationships. However, despite this women in the modern day business setting are also influenced by a desire for power, competition and achievement. It is clear that men and women have difficulty in understanding exactly each others needs in the business environment. However with the boom of self-help literature and gender studies gurus like Dr Pat Heim, this is clearly less of a problem.
Whether it is bad communication or dealing with petty arguments in the workplace, there is a book available for your circumstance. The most effective communication between men and women exists when men and women are able to understand the “invisible rules”, as described by Dr Pat Heim. Here, Dr Heim distinguishes genders as different cultures with their own rules understood exclusively by members of that culture. Behaviour that appears to be normal and instinctive to one culture may be interpreted to be strange, hurtful or wrong to others.
When working with members of the opposite sex in the business environment we can become intolerant and suspicious. For the most part men and women will not view themselves to be part of a gender specific culture, especially when we have been raised in parallel social environments. The Hierarchy of Male Culture Throughout all the world’s cultures, children learn how to be adults through the games they play. Boys favour hierarchal team sports. These types of games involve fierce competition, aggression, strategy, risk taking, the ability to hide emotion and an all round play to win attitude.
Throughout these games a clear hierarchy is produced that has to be adhered to in order to play. This teaches boys to obey unquestioningly, to tolerate others and to become team leaders. Through the games boys learn in childhood, males are able to learn how to acquire power, resolve conflicts and become emotionally detached from the competition in the business setting. The “Flat” Female Culture Girls in general do not play and, for many physical and social reasons, are not drawn to sports. Girls are able to learn from the uncompetitive one to one games they play with the people they like.
The games girls play reinforces and galvanises their friendships through win-win situations and the application of equality throughout. As a consequence of this girls have what is called a “flat” relationship structure, as described by Dr Pat Heim. Interpersonal relationships are an aspect of female culture that is not to be underestimated. The power distribution within female cultures is kept even and any attempt to digress from this in the business setting is usually met with a break in friendships. When women enter the usually hierarchical business setting the often seek to equalise power and negotiate relationships.
Misunderstandings in the Business Setting In the familiar time bound the controlling hierarchical style has proved to be the most successful means of cooperation within the business setting. When time is limited, a central member of the group needs to take control of the situation whilst everyone else adheres to their assigned roles. Each person is able to add his/her additional ideas as to how the situation is best handled. Sometimes however using this approach in the business setting can cause a clash in interests and can quickly becomes a recipe for disaster e. g. in situations where time is not of the essence.
Unfortunately there is a tendency for each culture to associate them with one style, leading to severe conflicts within the working environment. Summary As identified, it is the unique social environment of both males and females that creates the rules governing their behaviour in the business environment. There is nothing objective or scientific about the appropriateness of our behaviour within the business setting. Today the working environment presents challenges for women as they learn to adapt to a hierarchical goal orientated approach that traditionally govern business operations.
However men too have to slowly adapt their approach as a stream of new management techniques prove successful in the modern era. This includes the flat, process orientated approach brought to the workplace by women in particular. In this environment is essential that optimal level of communication is maintained between the male and female cultures. This is achieved when conscious attention is given to the way we speak (i. e. speak the language of the other gender) and non-verbal forms of communication. It is clear that the global leaders of tomorrow will need to understand, respect and appropriately apply the rules of gender culture.