Women Are Calmer under Pressure: New Research

New research by Alex Krumer of the University of St. Gallen, as reported in the Harvard Business Review, finds that women respond better to pressure in competitive sports than men do. Krumer and his colleagues analyzed more than 8,200 games from high-stakes Grand Slam tennis matches. They chose to include only the first matches of Grand Slams to control for the fatigue factor. They also chose Grand Slam tennis matches because performance was easy to measure, the monetary incentives and ranking points were the largest out of all the tournaments, and men and women received the same prize money. Krumer and his colleagues found that the men’s performance in unbroken serves deteriorated more than the women’s when the game was at a critical juncture, such as a 4-4 tie. Krumer said, “Among women, we saw barely any difference between pre- and post-tie performance.” While the researchers acknowledge that applying this information to the labor market is difficult, they also speculate that biological differences between men and women identified by other researchers are consistent with their results. These are just two examples:

  • The literature on cortisol, the stress hormone, shows that levels of it increase more rapidly in men than in women, which can hurt performance.
  • Testosterone, a proven performance enhancer, increases after a victory and decreases after a defeat in men but not in women. Spikes in testosterone can lead to overconfidence and higher risk taking.
In previous articles, I reported on studies that show similarities and differences in factors affecting decision making between women and men. The differences in risk-taking behavior show that overconfidence is a major obstacle in making smart decisions. The tennis researchers note that while they cannot demonstrate a direct relationship between performance in Grand Slam tennis matches and competence in the business world, other research shows significant differences, probably at least partially biologically based, in how women and men handle pressure. The researchers suggest that we consider the variety of roles in which we want leaders who can stay calm under pressure, such as CEOs and political leaders with control of nuclear weapons. Krumer suggests that “if you’re talking about mental toughness, maybe in certain circumstances it’s women who have the edge,” yet we have a dearth of women in CEO (4 percent of Fortune 500 chief executives) and political leadership roles. Clearly, that needs to change. What steps are you taking to make a difference?   Image courtesy of businessforward (CC BY 2.0)]]>

Focusing Competition to Enhance Productivity

It’s a myth that the gender wage gap exists because women are not as competitive as men. A recent McKinsey study found that women negotiate as often as men for promotions and raises, a form of competition, but they receive more negative feedback when they do. Coren Apicella and Johanna Mollerstrom’s new research, published in the New York Times, shows that while women and men do sometimes compete differently, women can be just as competitive as men. Apicella and Mollerstrom report that women do shy away from some—but not all—types of competition more than men. In an experiment conducted by the researchers, women chose to compete against another person less often than was true for men, but they were just as likely to choose self-competition. Women and men were equally likely to choose to compete against themselves to improve their own previous score—and equally likely to improve their performance. Apicella and Mollerstrom also found that women were more willing to compete against other women than against men. This agrees with my own research findings on women’s relationships in the workplace, published in my book New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together. The competitive feelings between women colleagues, which can result in unsupportive behaviors, happen for a reason: organizations actually set up women to feel competitive with one another. This happens when women see very few other women in senior leadership positions. As one of my research participants explained: You’re playing a game with men because there are so few women at the top. Because there are few slots for women, you see the successful women as your competition. You don’t really see the whole pie or all the people out there as your competition.  

What Bosses Can Do

When managers and supervisors understand the gender differences I’ve described here, they can adjust strategies, motivating women to engage in healthy competition that promotes growth and productivity. Here are some strategies:
  • Create opportunities that focus on self-improvement and mastery rather than competition with colleagues.
  • Provide feedback to female employees about their relative performance compared with male and female peers so that they can decide whether or not to compete with others.
  • Raise awareness for women about the propensity of women to shy away from conflict so that they can reflect on why they may not feel comfortable competing with others.
  • Encourage women to support other women in a caring and genuine way and openly celebrate their successes.
  • Help women create a positive mindset about competing with other women rather than against other women as a win/win approach that can encourage each to do her best.
What are your feelings about competition? What have you learned about managing women and supporting their success in the workplace? Let us hear from you.   Photo courtesy of WOCinTech Chat. CC by 2.0]]>

Women Competing with Women: How to Make Competition Fun and Energizing

As a consultant and coach for more than thirty years, I have heard too many painful stories from female clients about feeling unsupported and even undermined by other women at work. When I decided to research this dynamic for my book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together, I found that these feelings and experiences happen for a reason: organizations actually set up women to feel competitive with one another. This happens when women see very few other women in senior leadership positions. As one of my research participants explained: You’re playing a game with men because there are so few women at the top. Because there are few slots for women, you see the successful women as your competition. You don’t really see the whole pie or all the people out there as your competition. Belinda MJ Brown, writing for Forbes, suggests that the recent Olympic Games offer women in corporations another way to think about competition as a win-win scenario rather than a win-lose, or zero-sum-game, scenario. She reminds us of the recent Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman and Simone Biles who, while competing with each other for Olympic Gold, were also able to cheer each other on to outperform their own previous performances. This reminds me of my own experience as a lap swimmer. I always swim faster and more effortlessly when someone who is my equal, or even a little stronger, is swimming in the lane next to me—even if it is a stranger. I draw energy from him or her and push myself a little harder in the presence of another athlete—even when no one is trying to win. Brown suggests the same can be true for women at work. If we can find fun and regeneration in competing with one another instead of against one another, we can find energy and enjoyment in encouraging one another to do our best and celebrate one another’s accomplishments. Brown suggests that we can shift our mind-sets about competing with other women to win-win by taking these steps:

  1. Become aware of the structural way organizations set up women in a win-lose mind-set against each other when there are few women in senior leadership positions.
  2. Notice your own thoughts and beliefs about competition with or against yourself or other women.
  3. Connect with and focus on your own strengths, instead of comparing yourself to others. Channel your energy into growing and leveraging your strengths.
  4. Support other women in a caring and genuine way, and openly celebrate their successes.
  5. Talk with other women about the benefits of encouraging one another to do their best. Agree to support and celebrate one another.
Try these win-win mind-sets and let me know in the comments section if you notice any changes in your energy and relationships at work. I believe that even with “so few women at the top,” supporting one another and competing with instead of against one another can result not only in our own individual successes but in changes in the cultures of our organizations, thus resulting in more women at the top. Photo Credit: Business Forward at Flickr.com]]>

How Unmarried Women Are Driving Positive Change in the United States

recent article in New York magazine, Rebecca Traister reports this important change: “in 2009, for the first time in American history, single women outnumbered married women. Today, only around 20 percent of Americans ages 18–29 are wed, compared to nearly 60 percent in 1960.” Traister points out that this change represents a radical upheaval that cuts across classes and races. It was made possible by the social movements that came earlier— abolition, suffrage, the labor fights of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the civil rights, women’s, and LGBT rights movements of the mid-twentieth century—but is not, itself, an intentionally politicized or conscious movement. It is just that as a result of these earlier movements, women have internalized the assumption that it is acceptable, and the best choice for them, not to be married: that they are whole people able to live satisfying lives on their own or in community if they don’t happen to meet someone they want to legally bind themselves to. Nonetheless, this shift is driving profound change in politics and in the political agendas of our legislative and presidential contests. Consider the potential impact of this statistic for the 2016 elections by Page Gardner, as cited by Traister: “For the first time in history, a majority of women voters are projected to be unmarried.” Traister points out that this means single women, at both the high and low ends of the earning spectrum and across race, have a set of common needs not yet met by government. These needs require a major revamping of the civic institutions that still operate on the assumption that women are financially dependent on men, and that men are the breadwinners and women are the unpaid, or low wage, family caregivers. For example, think about school letting out in the middle of the afternoon—what is the assumption about who is available to pick up the children? These assumptions were never true for most African American women, and now a majority of all women have shared interests and the potential political clout in the voting booth to drive a new social contract for women that includes the following:

  • Stronger equal pay protections
  • A higher federally mandated minimum wage
  • A national health-care system that covers reproductive intervention
  • More affordable housing for single people
  • Criminal justice reforms
  • Government subsidized day care programs
  • Federally mandated paid family leave for both women and men
  • Universal paid-sick-day compensation
  • Increases in welfare benefits
  • Reduced college costs
  • Quality early-education programs
We are at a moment in history when we have the potential to unify to make change. In order to realize this possibility, though, we must each do our part by registering to vote and voting for candidates who support these policy changes. What changes are you seeing in families and for women that reflect this new reality of single women outnumbering married women?   Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>

Voting for Hillary: Why Is There a Generational Divide among Women?

I have been watching the 2016 presidential campaign unfold with great interest. As a feminist, I care about whether candidates have progressive positions and a demonstrated track record of improving the lives of women and girls of all races, ages and, nationalities. Hillary Clinton seems to me to have the best record of demonstrated commitment to these issues, so I have been curious about what appears to be a generational divide among Democratic women: in the New Hampshire primary, women under thirty voted for Bernie Sanders four to one. What are the reasons for this divide? Here are my hunches and the perspectives of a few other authors.

This Is a Mother/Daughter Generational Grudge Match

Susan Faludi writes that the generational grudge match between older and younger women has been present in every era since women won the right to vote in 1920. This makes sense to me when I remember my own judgmental rejection of my mother’s life choices as a younger woman. Faludi lays out examples of this dynamic in the 1920s and in second-wave feminism, as noted by the feminist poet Adrienne Rich, who wrote about matrophobia among second-wavers. Third-wave feminists declared, “we’re not our uptight mothers” in defining their feminism, and some third-wavers declared that they could not vote for Hillary Clinton in 2008 “because she reminds me of my mother.” This dynamic is troubling if it creates blinders about issues important for improving the lives of women.

Young Women Feel They Live in a Post-Feminist World

I know that there are many young feminist activists, yet Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports that many millennial women, ages eighteen to twenty-nine, feel that gender is no longer important. Many (not all) take for granted the gains made for women by older generations, and their concerns are different—for example, student debt, jobs, LGBT rights, and flexible gender identities. Where they might find a transgender candidate exciting, they don’t see the big deal about a woman becoming president.

Years in the Workplace Change Your Perspective

Jill Filipovic writes that the explanation for the generational divide among women who support Hillary Clinton may come more from our different life experiences. She notes, “more time in a sexist world, and particularly in the workplace, radicalizes women.” It can take about ten years in the workplace before the realities of gender discrimination become clear. These realities are not yet part of the world of millennials. Their current world is one in which:
  • In university environments, there are more female than male students.
  • In high school, girls tend to outperform boys academically.
  • Title IX regulates roughly equal treatment of women and men in school athletics.
  • Women attend graduate school in roughly equal or greater numbers than men.
  • College-educated women see only a tiny pay gap when they are first hired.
But by age thirty-five, these same women are making significantly less than their male peers. And once they have children, women are treated as incompetent, have a harder time getting hired, and are paid significantly less than men. It takes time for these experiences to accumulate, and millennial women haven’t had enough time in the workforce yet to get radicalized.

We Hold Women Leaders to Different and Tougher Standards

I have written in previous articles about our discomfort with strong women and about the different expectations we have of female leaders. We expect male leaders to be assertive and decisive, but we are uncomfortable if women behave that way. Gail Sheehy describes the ambivalence that many baby boomer women feel about voting for Hillary. Sheehy quotes a female political leader as saying, “A lot of women vote from a compassionate, nurturing place, and those are not qualities you feel from [Hillary Clinton].” Really? Think about it. Don’t we need our commander in chief to be tough, assertive, and decisive? Let’s hope we can stay focused on who will be the best leader for the whole country, and who will best meet the needs of women and girls of all ages, races, and nationalities. It’s so important.   “Hillary Clinton” by Llima Orosa is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0  ]]>

Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter: A Book Review

In her book, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, Anne-Marie Slaughter takes us a step further down the road to understanding why progress continues to be slow for gender equality in the workplace and what needs to change. While three years ago Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, triggered an important national conversation about the challenges women face in the workplace, it was criticized for focusing too narrowly on solutions for privileged women and too little on the different needs of working-class women. Sandberg’s book was also criticized for putting too much of the responsibility on individual women for not “leaning in” enough to progress in their careers. Slaughter takes this conversation to the next level and argues that we must take the blame off of individual women and broaden the conversation to include the issues faced by women at all income levels and in all occupations, as well as acknowledge the restrictions placed on men’s life choices by existing gender stereotypes and workplace and societal structures and policies. Slaughter suggests that we need to change our lens to talk about competition versus care or breadwinning versus caregiving, instead of talking about work-life balance. When we use this lens and this language, we begin to shift the focus from work-life balance being a middle-class women’s issue to a focus that is more inclusive and that leads to broader strategies for change. In fact, Slaughter notes that the problem is not only that there are not enough women at the top of organizations, it is also that there are too many women at the bottom—62 percent of minimum wage jobs are held by women—and some common threads cause the problem at both ends of the income ladder. Slaughter argues that the real problem is that competition, the human drive to pursue our self-interest, is valued over care, the human drive to put others first. Women and men are motivated by both competition and care. The problem is that competition, or “breadwinning,” has been defined as more valuable and as the domain of men. The domain of caregiving has been defined as women’s; discrimination against and devaluing of caregiving provides a common thread linking the experiences of women at the top and at the bottom. Here are some examples of the link provided by Slaughter:

  • A young female lawyer or banker who begins to work flexible hours to be home with her kids for dinner, or who works part time, or who steps out of the workforce for a while to be a full-time caregiver is quickly disqualified from advancing in her career. Joan Williams describes this as hitting the maternal wall. Neither her advancement nor her earning capacity will ever recover.
  • A single mother who has no choice but to be both the sole breadwinner and family caregiver is likely to be in a low-wage job with no sick leave or childcare benefits. Half of single mothers in the United States make less than $25,000 a year, and being a single mother is the single best predictor that a woman will end up in bankruptcy or poverty in old age.
  • In our society, caregivers are among the lowest-paid American workers. Low-income African American and immigrant women are heavily overrepresented in the most poorly paid care jobs.
Slaughter suggests that the solution is not to devalue competition, but to elevate the value of care in some of the following ways:
  • We need to raise the pay and benefits of care jobs to reflect a valuing of caregiving work.
  • We need to let go of old gender stereotypes and expand our language to include same-sex parents and gender identities beyond male and female.
  • We need to expand our language to talk about working parents or working caregivers rather than working mothers.
  • We need family-friendly policies, like flextime, that are more than lip service and that do not penalize the caregivers, women and men, who need and want to use them;
  • We need careers redefined to reflect the demand to customize jobs to meet the requirements of workers in different life phases without penalty.
  • Our government needs to invest in an infrastructure of care that includes subsidized high-quality and affordable childcare and elder care, paid family leave, and other supports for caregiving.
While Slaughter does not provide many specifics about how to enact the many big changes that are needed, this book is worth reading to understand more about the next steps on this journey of change that we are all on.]]>

Strategic Relationships at Work: Creating Your Circle of Mentors, Sponsors, and Peers for Success in Business and Life—A Book Review

Wendy Murphy and Kathy E. Kram have written an important book about why we all need developmental support networks for both career success and personal well-being—and how to develop those networks. The book is practical and easy to read, with lots of research-based examples and tips. Reflection activities at the end of each chapter encourage the reader to apply the concepts immediately to her own career and life. What I found most interesting were these points about mentoring that I had not considered: Formal and informal mentors. The authors reviewed scores of studies and conducted several of their own that revealed that having a formal mentor, often assigned in a workplace program, is valuable but not enough. We need a network of mentors, both formal and informal, to reach our goals and enable us to “cope with stress and thrive during times of change.” Trends in the changing nature of work. These trends require that we take charge of our career development and have multiple types and sources of mentoring. The authors identified the most significant trends as the following:

  1. Job mobility—it is not uncommon for people to work in multiple organizations during their working lives.
  2. Globalization—the world we live in is increasingly connected, and we need to keep learning from different people how to be effective across cultures and national boundaries.
  3. Technology—technology creates new challenges for how to both engage and disengage from work.
  4. Pace of change—the pace of change has become very fast and can be overwhelming. We need to be able to adapt and change continually.
Essential skills for developing your network. The authors note that the basic ingredients for developing a productive mentoring network are relationship-building skills. Core to relationship skills are self-awareness and social skills. Social skills include listening, giving and receiving feedback, empathy, conflict management, and the ability and willingness to share aspects of your story. Concrete suggestions for how to develop these skills are included in this book, as well as in Daniel Goleman’s book Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships. How to develop a mentor. The authors encourage readers to be proactive and reach out to people who are potential mentors. They suggest some steps to take in this process:
  1. Get clear about your own strengths and career goals. Select potential mentors who might know something or someone who could help you move forward on your path.
  2. Invite a potential mentor for coffee or lunch for an informational interview.
  3. Ask thought-provoking questions, such as the following:
    1. Could you tell me about your career path? How did you get to the position you are in today?
    2. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned from each promotion or change?
    3. What are the best and worst aspects of your current job? Of your current organization?
    4. How would you advise someone who wanted to follow a similar career path?
Types of mentors. A recent article in the Boston Globe suggests there are three kinds of informal mentors who meet different types of needs:
  1. The co-mentor—someone who is your equal with whom you can exchange skills, knowledge, and encouragement.
  2. The remote mentor—someone outside of your organization who can give you a fresh perspective.
  3. The invisible mentor—someone who you can learn from with little or no direct interaction. This can be a role model who inspires you and whom you may never meet in person.
Other tips. Diversity matters. Be intentional about developing informal mentoring relationships with people from different social contexts than your own. Broader perspectives can challenge your thinking and open up new networks for you. This book is worth spending some time with. Each career move and stage of life brings new challenges in choosing and navigating your path. Periodically update your mentoring network to keep it fresh and diverse so that you have the support you need throughout your life. We all need support.]]>

Next Steps for Connecting Across Differences

  • Identify the sides on your prism that are most relevant for you at this time in your life and career, keeping gender in the center. For example, I might ask myself how being a Jewish woman, white woman, US-born woman, and woman in my sixties are all currently impacting my experience. What is important for others to know about me as I turn the prism that reflects my wholeness?
  • Make a list of the sides of your prism. Reflect on how each side interacts with being a woman for you at this time in your life and career.
  • Become more curious and open to learning about the experiences of other women who are different. Listen to understand, and be willing to share your experience.
  • Make a connection once a month with someone from a different culture whom you don’t usually interact with. Cultural differences can include different employment levels, ages, races, nationalities, religions, and other differences.
  • Read the histories of other groups or watch movies about the experiences of women from different cultures, such as Real Women Have Curves.
  •   An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/).]]>