I came across an article on Medium titled “9 Non-threatening Leadership Strategies for Women” by Sarah Cooper. Thankfully, it was a parody. Like most comedy, though, its humor lies in the bit of truth at its core. In this case, the truth is the challenge that many people have with direct, unvarnished communication from women in the workplace and the lengths women go to minimize those adverse effects. The parody is not that terribly far from what some women feel they must do every day.
The cost of this effort is real. A recent article from Harvard Business Review, “Why Women Feel More Stress at Work,” addresses the increased stress and reduced performance women endure just from knowing that they are fighting stereotypical perceptions in the office.
So, we have a societal bias that punishes female team members for being as direct as male team members and reduced effectiveness of those team members from the stress of trying to avoid the bias. What’s a manager to do? After all, it’s your job to maximize the effectiveness of your team. Doing so is a combination of increasing performance and reducing inefficiencies.
Increasing the effectiveness of your team and organization can start with addressing the unnecessary drains on female employees. Here are some ideas:
Take the parody seriously. Review the parody and start paying attention to when women on your team and in your company face one of those noted situation. Change starts with awareness.
Reward direct, unvarnished communication. There’s a difference between direct and rude. Hold women to the exact same standard of rudeness to which you hold men. And when a female team member is as direct as a male team member, keep the conversation moving smoothly as you would for the male. This is a non-verbal indicator that their language is okay.
Apply standards of politeness to men. Women are often encouraged to pad their point with soft language to avoid seeming curt. There is some validity to using more words than necessary in order to reduce defensive responses or create positive feelings. Everyone should consider doing that a little more, regardless of gender (feel free to skip the emojis).
Be more than a referee, be a coach. When a team member dominates a group discussion, a referee will only intervene if a rule is broken. A coach will model ways to create space for other team members to contribute. This demonstrates that you value everyone’s input, not just that from the most aggressive person. Remember, your job isn’t to encourage people to be more assertive by letting them be run over. Your job is to insure that the best ideas get into circulation for the benefit of the team.
Plenty of research shows that a diversified workforce increases organizational performance and that women, in particular, lead to greater productivity and profits. If you, as a manager, create a space that attracts and supports women, you may deliver a competitive advantage to your organization. An advantage that can result in increased performance in the marketplace for the company and you, the new star manager.