Image Ability | Blog: Polarisation of Men vs Women in the Workplace: how real is this?  
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I am becoming rather tired of the polarisation of men vs women.

Whether we are Gen X, Z or Y, this increasingly heated polemic has become unhealthy in a professional context.  

But I do understand it. 

When I looked at my professional network in 2019, 80% were men. This was easy to understand as my leadership roles have put me in conversations with other decision-makers at similar levels. With just two exceptions, and across 30 years of business, I signed contracts with men: their signature was alongside mine. However, when other women had to sign, their signatures were either lower on the page – or, for almost all those who made sure mission-critical projects happened, there was no sign of their name on any page! Hmmmm…

But they had a voice to which I took time to listen. So, with hindsight, this was my reward, and it was good for everybody – their organisations and my staff, who I was, in effect, representing.

Back to signatures and being equal.

We all perform acts of courage – and being there to cheerlead and extend a helping hand to each other is all that’s needed most of the time. Both professional women and men know that there is no substitute for doing the work to start with – and it’s usually those who take themselves too seriously who can’t get to the next step and enjoy the ride.  

However, the good news is that staying within your power zone is a skill which can be learned. 

So, practically and realistically, there is no way men should be excluded from strengthening leadership style capabilities, and women should not be excluded from strengthening men’s either. 

Whether some of us – men or women – are better than others at critical thinking, giving feedback or communicating in words (and actions) when we seek support, 80% tend to offer it. So try it on your network and see what you discover. You may be surprised who is there for you when you need them.

It’s give and take: a suggestion for both.

Ask for a few words privately. For example, ‘Do you remember we did this and that; would you be prepared to say a few words about how you found it was working with me‘ and see what you get?

Such things can become complicated when you think of them as Testimonials. My advice is to do something other than that. Ask for the impression you made on them – and work from there. Your intention is not to satisfy an algorithm (or not just yet!), but to assess your support base.

In my experience, women don’t waver when you ask them for such feedback, but men tend to be more ‘forgetful’ about responding . . . but in a friendly way. So, chase them: they should not get upset – unless they take themselves too seriously!

Then, take your pick and decide what you want to publish – reflecting on how you wish to be perceived for your new goals.

In conclusion, polarisation based on gender is unhealthy and unnecessary. As professionals, we should focus on our strengths and encourage each other, irrespective of gender. We should appreciate and value each other’s contributions and work together towards achieving our goals. And most of the time, this appreciation starts with the most uncomplicated and most spontaneous reply to an email or a message.

Best of luck, everybody!


P.S. Not long ago, I heard somebody known to be an image guru advocating that ‘image’ is the most effortless work to do because, in the corporate world, it is similar for an executive woman or an executive man. I was speechless!

Who doesn’t know already that, amongst others, mirroring the dress of your dialogue partner is a well-known communication tactic? But an image is a more complex alchemy, depending on personality, goals, setting, and so much more. Of course, uniforms have their role to play, but not everywhere and at all costs for standardisation of the way we think, lead, and make decisions in organisations.

British Leyland – the erstwhile dominant force in the British motor industry, introduced standardised, grey workwear for everybody from the Chief Executive downwards. Frankly, it looked awful, and I recall accompanying a team of senior executives to Boston (USA) where, far from encouraging a sense of identity, they relapsed into defensiveness against the external world.

Within reason, let’s be proud and prepared to assert our independence in our personal and professional image.

Otherwise, it begins to look and sound all very Chinese.

Boiler suit, anyone?

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