The Promise and Challenge of Mixed-Gender Teams

research recently published by MIT economists. In fact, the gender-balanced offices in the study produced 41 percent more revenue than single-sex workplaces.

Why Higher Performance?

The key to higher performance in this study is that the more highly productive teams were gender balanced. In other words, roughly equal numbers of women and men made up the teams rather than only token representatives. What might account for this higher performance?
  1. More voice for everyone. When there are roughly equal numbers of women and men on a team, both women and men will be more likely to get their ideas heard and influence the culture of the team.
  2. More perspectives. A diversity of perspectives is bound to result in better decisions and solutions, and help avoid groupthink. A recent Time magazine story by Sallie Krawcheck shows what can result from the absence of diversity in the workplace. Krawcheck tells her story of being fired from her position running Smith Barney at Citi during the financial crisis. The only woman in senior leadership at Citi, she was fired for diverging from the groupthink of the financial industry and daring to suggest that clients should be partly reimbursed for the losses caused by selling them high-risk products. Before she was fired, she would not have said that her approach to decision making was related to her gender. After she was fired, Krawcheck’s research helped her understand that women tend to be more risk averse and client-relationship focused—a value that the financial industry needed. The gender-balanced teams in the MIT study were probably able to leverage a diversity of perspectives and, therefore, showed superior results.
  3. More skills. A broader range of skills and experience is available in diverse teams, which could contribute to better results.

Why Less Happiness?

When the MIT research was released, a reporter from the Boston Globe called me and said, “I’m surprised! This study shows higher levels of trust, cooperation, and enjoyment of the workplace in single-sex offices. Shouldn’t this ‘social capital’ translate into higher productivity?” But it doesn’t. Feeling happier and more comfortable in single-sex offices does not produce higher performance. Working in gender-balanced teams produced more revenue but less enjoyment, or less happiness, in the workplace. “I’m not surprised,” I told her. And here’s why:
  1. Gender is a cultural difference, and communicating across cultural differences is not easy. Cross-cultural interactions take effort and are fraught with opportunities for misunderstanding. We also now understand that gender is a continuum with more than two variations on gender shaping our perspectives—and creating even more opportunities for misunderstanding.
  2. History can shape our interactions. Men often say they feel they have to “walk on eggshells” around women colleagues out of fear of saying something offensive. Women often say they feel they have to be more assertive than is comfortable for them to get their ideas heard and are then told they are hard to work with. This view that working with gender diversity takes more effort was recently confirmed by a male client who proudly described the gender-balanced team he had led for a state-wide change effort. He said, “We accomplished amazing things together because we were able to leverage our differences.” Then he said, “By the end we were all exhausted by the effort it took to work together—but it was worth it.”
Do you have the skills to work cross-culturally? It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.]]>

Four Tips for Thriving in the Workplace from Women CEOs

New York Times, Adam Bryant interviewed four women CEOs about how to thrive in the workplace. These leaders described “headwinds” or challenges they have faced as women leaders and tips for how to overcome them. Examples of their headwinds included

  • Receiving feedback during performance reviews that they dress too sternly or smile too much or too little—thereby making other people uncomfortable
  • Receiving promotions without adequate resources to do the job
  • Feeling they needed to downplay their accomplishments to fit in
  • Being underestimated or not given the benefit of the doubt
Have you experienced any of these headwinds? If so, here are some tips from the CEOs about how to overcome them.

Four Tips for Thriving in the Workplace

Tip #1: Take a stand about your performance. If you get performance feedback that focuses on personal attributes, behaviors, or appearance, and your performance results are strong, insist that your results be the focus. Here’s what one of the CEOs said to her boss, respectfully, early in her career when he told her people were uncomfortable with how sternly she dressed: “From this point on, I want you to judge me on my performance, not my appearance.” After that, he did. Tip #2: Toot your own horn. Self-promotion can be difficult for many women because we are socialized to “fit in” and not stand out, but we need to stand out to realize our potential in organizations. To get recognition from senior leaders, be prepared to strategically remind them of your experience and accomplishments. This can be helpful in meetings when you are having trouble being heard. As CEO Dara Richardson-Heron noted, women often mistake words for voice. In other words, it is not enough to be at the table and say something. For Richardson-Heron, voice means “having a track record of success and accomplishments” that you remind people about from time to time so they want to listen to you. You should also toot your own horn when being underestimated or overlooked for opportunities. One of my clients recently found that she needed to start systematically reminding the senior leaders in her company of her accomplishments and her career goals because they kept overlooking her when opportunities arose for promotions. She created a two-minute elevator speech about her strengths and accomplishments that she repeated frequently. She got promoted. Tip #3: Cultivate allies and sponsors. Women need both women and men to be their allies and sponsors. Conversations among decision makers about perceptions of our performance often take place in meetings or settings where we are not present. We need to let key people know our career goals and our accomplishments so that they can put in a good word for us when opportunities arise and help us get the benefit of the doubt when people are questioning our performance or when we have been asked to take on a role without proper resources. We can shape the narrative about how we are perceived if we keep key people informed about our talents and successes and if we let them know what support we need. Tip #4:  Be authentic. The pressure is strong to “fit in” to an organization’s leadership mold or to respond to feedback about being too harsh or too nice. The CEOs interviewed for the New York Times article and author Sylvia Ann Hewlett agree that an important part of having leadership presence is being authentic. Being nice, smiling, or leading collaboratively isn’t wrong if you are able to get results. As CEO Jenny Ming explained, you can make a tough decision and “still act on it in a nice way. Why not?”]]>

Why We Need Friends at Work

New York Times recently agreed with the ancient writers that friendships bring out our better selves, radiating social and political benefits that we all need. A number of scholars have written about the way adult women’s friendships outside of work help us stay upright in the face of life’s challenges. Jean Baker Miller and Irene Pierce Stiver wrote about the benefits to women’s mental and emotional health that result from having the support of other women in the workplace. Yet many of my coaching clients have lost touch with their old friends. The demands of work and family do not leave time for friends outside of work. The pressures of advancing in their careers make them feel they need to keep some distance from other women at work with whom they may be competing for promotions, or whom they may supervise one day. I’ve heard countless stories about two women being friends as peers, but when one gets promoted, the friendship ends because they don’t know how to handle the change. I think we need strong friendships at work, and I believe we can build them and maintain them, even as we compete for promotions and become each other’s bosses. The key is that we need to learn how to talk about and negotiate our expectations of each other as our roles shift and change—both inside and outside of work. Many women have difficulty with these conversations, but talking gets easier with practice. Why do we need friendships at work?

  • To test out ideas and get feedback we trust
  • For sanity checks when confusing situations arise at work
  • To vent frustrations so we can release them and move on
  • To celebrate our successes
  • To know who we can count on for help in a crisis
  • To speak up for each other and to help get our voices heard in meetings
  • To get work done in an enjoyable atmosphere
  • To prop each other up when times are hard—both inside and outside of work
Why do you need friendships at work? Let me know.  ]]>

Sheryl Sandberg and Gendered Expectations

Lean In, makes the point that women cannot ignore the many double binds they face in the workplace if they want to be successful, however they may define success. She makes a strong case and cites solid research about the importance for women of being likeable if they wish to succeed and the double bind this creates for women. One of the studies described by Sandberg was conducted by two professors who used a Harvard Business School case study that described a real-life entrepreneur. They gave the case to business-school students to rate on several factors. Half the students got the case with the name Heidi, and the other half got the same case with the name Howard. While the students rated both Heidi and Howard as competent, they rated Howard as a more appealing colleague, while Heidi was seen as “not the type of person you would want to hire or work for.” Sandberg notes that this study shows what many other studies have also shown: “When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.” In other words, “success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.” The career implications are obvious. If we cannot get hired or promoted because our competence makes both women and men uncomfortable, we are in big trouble. If we play down our accomplishments and do not toot our own horn about our capabilities to level and be likeable, we cannot get access to opportunities. An additional research finding shows that one reason women are paid less than men for the same work is that women do not try to negotiate for compensation, benefits, titles, and other perks as often as men do. But as Sandberg points out, women have a good reason for not negotiating. We have learned that if we advocate for ourselves, we are often seen as too demanding or aggressive and not someone people want to hire or promote. An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (]]>

Why Do Many Women Prefer a Male Boss?

Gallup survey confirmed that both women and men prefer a male boss. While the percentage who prefer a female boss has increased since 1953 when Gallup began asking this question, women would still choose a male (40 percent) over a female (27 percent) boss by a 13-percent margin. If almost half of the women in the workforce do not want to be led by women, this could pose a significant challenge for us as female leaders. One reason for this lack of support for female leaders might be the different expectations that many women have of how female leaders should behave. A participant in my research on women’s workplace relationships reflected a sentiment I heard frequently from both research participants and my coaching clients. The participant, a financial services manager, said, “I worked for a woman who was more task focused, which made it really uncomfortable for me. When a guy does that [is task focused], it doesn’t bother me as much.” Another research participant, who worked as a human resources manager, described her disappointment with a female boss who was not as friendly as she expected. She said, “I would rather work for a man. Then I would know what to expect.” Where do these different expectations come from? My research reveals that women expect more from a relationship with female leaders; these relational expectations reflect something I call women’s friendship rules. Women expect female leaders to build connection and trust through sharing and listening. Yet the masculine norms of most workplaces discourage relationship work as a “waste of time” or “coddling” and instead value task focus and autonomy. A woman engineer recently told me that she received a lower performance rating than she thought she deserved and was told that she spends too much time chatting with her staff, listening to them, and asking for their input. She was told that to prove herself ready for advancement, she has to demonstrate toughness and stop coddling her predominantly female staff. Her team’s results were terrific, but her style did not match the company norm for effective leadership. Her superiors did not understand that she was doing what she had to do to get such positive results. Adopting a masculine style and staying aloof from your employees might seem to be the simplest action you can take. However, scholars show the importance of relational skills for effective leadership, and staying aloof can backfire for a female leader. Not only might other women at your workplace feel uncomfortable with you, but your aloofness might also demotivate them and affect their productivity. We’ll look at other reasons that many women say they prefer a male boss in future blogs. Of course, not all women dislike having female bosses. Many women in my study and many female clients report feeling supported by female leaders in a way they do not experience with men. For example, these women said that their female leaders are more understanding about their struggles with deciding when to start a family or their needing time off for children’s events. Three Tips for Leading Women Here are some actions you can take to address your staff’s expectations and be an effective leader of women:

  1. Be friendly and relational with female staff members. Show an interest in the personal lives of your staff by asking about their weekends and vacations and inquiring about sick spouses or children. But be sensitive to cultural differences. In some cultures, sharing personal information outside of the family is not appropriate. The only way to be sure you are being sensitive is to ask people what is comfortable for them.
  2. Share some personal information about yourself, within limits. For example, share stories about your weekends, family, and hobbies.
  3. Listen to complaints and problems—but put boundaries on how much time you are willing to do so. Let people know that you want to know when something is wrong in their personal or work lives and that you will help find solutions if you can. You need to know if something is distracting them from their work or if they are facing other barriers to their productivity, and they need to feel that you care about them as human beings.
The plethora of books about effective leadership rarely acknowledge that women often need one leadership style for leading men and a different style for leading women, while men can use the same style effectively with both genders. We can adjust our leadership styles to meet the different needs of the women and men who work for us. Our challenge is to use the leadership style that works best for those we are leading.]]>

Could Subtle Gender Bias Be Holding You Back? How to Recognize and Overcome It

gender wage gap, which indicate that women make somewhere between 62 percent and 77 percent compared with the wages of male colleagues who do the same work (and the wage gap is much worse for women of color), but they don’t think the same could be happening to them. But gender bias can be subtle and hard to recognize. Are any of the scenarios below familiar to you? If so, gender bias may be working against you.

  • Recently a woman came to me for coaching because her boss told her that she needed to smile more to get promoted. She wanted me to help her learn to smile more, but she was bewildered about what this feedback really meant.
  • Another woman came for coaching because her supervisor gave her a mediocre performance review, calling her “indecisive” because she spent too much time “coddling” her team by asking for their input on decisions—yet her results were very strong.
  • Yet another woman recently came for coaching about how to get promoted. She had been with her large company for more than twenty-five years. She wanted to become a senior leader and had done everything her mentors suggested to prepare herself, yet in more than ten years she had been offered nothing more than lateral job changes while men all around her were moving up. When she asked why she was not moving up, she was told she lacked “executive presence” with no useful guidance about what she needed to do differently.
Each of these cases could be explained away as deficiencies that the individual women needed to fix. In fact, both my professional experience and a lot of recent research show that these women are probably being held back by common biases and assumptions present in many organizations. These biases are subtle and hard to see, but they can have a significant impact on women’s careers, self-confidence and pay level. Could subtle biases be holding you back? Here are some techniques that may help:
  • Smile more. Do we really have to smile more? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, for now. The subtle bias usually operating in this feedback has to do with the difficulty women have being perceived as both competent and likeable, discussed by Sheryl Sandberg as “the likeability factor. To overcome this bias, educate yourself about gender bias in the workplace and keep conversations with your boss focused on your results. Document your results and remind your boss about them from time to time—while smiling. Networking with other women and having a “safe setting” where you can share experiences, feedback, and best practices is important too.
  • Exercise collaborative leadership. The ability to build and utilize teams is a strength women should feel proud of and leverage. The command/control leadership style that is rewarded in most organizations is not the only style that produces results but is often the only style that gets rewarded. Share some reading materials about gender style differences with your boss and challenge him or her to consider supporting diverse leadership styles. Start a book club with both female and male colleagues to discuss gender style and leadership style differences and work together to encourage the organization to recognize and reward a broader range of leadership styles.
  • Demonstrate executive presence. Promotion decisions based on “lack of executive presence” for women often reflect a gender bias in organizations—men are more comfortable “tooting their own horns” about their accomplishments and nominating themselves for assignments and promotions for which they may not even be qualified. Women hesitate to do the same or underplay their accomplishments, which can be interpreted as lacking executive presence. As women, we can learn to be more self-promoting. We can also agree to promote each other to senior leaders.
If we educate ourselves about gender bias, we will be more likely to recognize it when we experience it and to know whether feedback is useful or not. We also need the support of other women so that we can share best practices for dealing with subtle workplace bias. And we need the support of male colleagues who understand how subtle gender bias operates. With awareness, action, and support we can overcome these barriers that hold us back. Have you encountered subtle gender bias at work? Have you found ways to overcome it?]]>

Next Steps

1. Assess your organization’s culture.

a. Describe your organization’s culture. Which values are rewarded? Which values are discouraged? Which values best fit your own orientation to the world?

b. Share your perceptions with other colleagues and, possibly, with your boss.

2. Identify your friendship rules. Talk to your friends, coworkers, and family members and bring these rules into your consciousness. Write them down. Continue to notice your unspoken expectations. 3. Identify the friendship rules of other women in your life, both inside and outside of work. Help bring these rules into their consciousness. Begin to notice where yours and theirs are similar and different. 4. Become more comfortable with conflict.

a. Make a list of the thoughts and feelings that come up for you when you think about conflict. Notice whether you think about conflict as negative or neutral. b. The next time a conflict or potential disagreement comes up, take the risk to reframe it as just a difference of opinion and stay engaged. Notice what happens. c. Assess how your organization holds or values conflict. Is conflict seen as healthy or as destructive? Is it encouraged or discouraged? Compare your perceptions with your coworkers and, possibly, with your boss.

  An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (]]>

Don’t Discuss Friendship Rules

  • “She should know what she did.”
  • “I shouldn’t have to say anything. She should be able to figure it out.”
  • “There isn’t any point in bringing it up because she would just get defensive.”
  • “I can’t trust her now so what’s the point?”
  • The taboo against discussion means that mismatched assumptions may not be discovered until damage has been done to the relationship. Vana, a Latina manager in the United States in her forties, explained,

    We never really stop and talk about what we expect from each other as friends. I know I would always help you out, but we never stop and say those things. We just, in our minds, expect it—and it’s our own fault that we get burned sometimes.

    It becomes even more imperative to be able to name and discuss our friendship rules in the workplace, where boundary and role confusion also enter the picture. We must learn to articulate and negotiate our friendship rules and develop relational courage so that we can stay present and in relationships when other women do not meet our expectations.   An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (]]>