Never send a man to do a woman's job.
No, I'm not attempting to start a battle of the sexes. Instead, I'm using the well-known saying to get your mind focused on the topic of comparing the male and female brains and how they may affect their respective owners professionally, both in principle and in practice.
Most likely you've either heard or said (in jest, of course) a variation of the above statement. But in all earnestness: Is there such thing as a "woman's" or a "man's" job? Is one gender more capable of succeeding in certain professions than the other?
What do YOU "think" about this topic? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll share what some of you have to say next week.
A recent Development Dimensions International (DDI) survey on leadership transition discovered that, in general, while male and females DON'T differ much in terms of capabilities, they DO show notable differences in feelings about their skills and a variety of other workplace issues.
Matt Paese, a DDI executive coach and vice president, said that DDI associates who work to ensure smooth transitions for newly named top dogs in businesses "don't see a big difference between men and women on skills, but rather in the way they feel about their skills."
And while Paese emphasized that most workers tend to struggle with job transitions, regardless of place on the corporate ladder, he said, "Men and women [professionals] definitely feel differently about [moving to a higher position, taking on more responsibility]."
The study, which was conducted between September and December 2006 and will be formally released in March, surveyed 385 respondents in an attempt to find out what goes on in the minds of business professionals when they are faced with the stress of taking on a more challenging gig.
Study participants answered questions about their thoughts on business issues and they rated their job strengths and stresses (on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 indicating VERY strong or very stressful) related to job transitions.
"These leadership transitions are points when their confidence is way down and we see interesting patterns in how they react," Paese said.
And here's what the survey says:
Women execs typically find it easier to create a new network and inspire workers to perform, while they feel it is more challenging to delegate a workload. The female business leaders polled also said they feel they are better at engaging others to get tasks done than they are at assigning them in an authoritative manner.
On the other hand (or brain), male professionals ranked building a new network as extremely challenging but find it easy to hand out assignments to new subordinates.
The women surveyed value money, self-esteem and greater stimulation as what motivates them to put their best foot forward in their career. (Though at first I was surprised to find the majority of women polled focused on the dollar figure, it only took a few seconds for it to make sense. After all, as Evelyn Murphy reminds us in her book "Getting Even": "Women working full-time – not part-time, not on maternity leave, not as consultants – still earn only 77 cents for every full-time male dollar.")
The polled men indicated they were not as concerned with salary, self-worth or stimulation factors as their female counterparts. Instead, they found it more important to feel productive and influential.
In another split between the sexes, women in the study expressed a need for better role models in making the transition smoother, while this was not as important for the male execs.
"It's interesting that women seem to find the experience of work as something that is an opportunity to fulfill yourself, where men see it as a means to get something done," Paese said.
"We know that men and women have equally capable skill sets, but [what the survey suggests is] the way they approach major challenges is very different."
The men and women in the study almost equally rated political interference as the most significant challenge in a promotion. Females, however, felt more effective at navigating through the red tape that comes along with the new title than did their male counterparts.
"Different" as Opposed to "Better" or "Worse"
The DDI results correlate to a major research study conducted by Babson College and The Commonwealth Institute that said women manage businesses successfully and, at the same time, differently than men. It's important to note that the results did not say that women manage "better" or "worse" than men, just differently.
Female execs need not cringe when they hear the word "different" used to describe the way they do business in comparison to their male counterparts. Often "different" is exactly what is needed.
This five-year study, which is the fourth of its kind, was conducted from 2000 to 2004. The findings from the group of 215 respondents show key trends about woman-led businesses and show that women consider establishing strong customer and employee relationships to be the cornerstones to conducting business.
Here is how the women CEOs polled ranked their leading factors in doing business:
*No. 1: Customer Satisfaction (97 percent)
*No. 2: Key Human Resource Issues: Employee Satisfaction (92 percent)
*No. 3: Company Culture (81 percent)
*No. 4: Work/Life Balance (67 percent)
These areas were all ranked higher as daily business priorities than rapid sales growth, high profitability, personal financial reward, high market share and personal autonomy and control.
A Different Approach Can Boost the Bottom Line
And now more data on a "-ly" word other than "differently" that was used to describe how women manage business — Successfully.
Of the 43 companies that consistently participated in the study from 2000 to 2004, the average company grew nearly 27 percent from revenues of $13.9 million in 2000 to revenues of $17.9 million in 2004. In the same timeframe, average employment increased by 9.5 percent, resulting in productivity gains of 15.9 percent.
"Women CEOs are succeeding because they first and foremost value strong relationships with customers and employees," said Aileen Gorman, executive director of The Commonwealth Institute.
"Their leadership focus engenders loyalty and productivity and results in long-term business success. Additionally, the [female] CEOs we studied value learning and continue to reach out to mentors and boards of advisors to further their knowledge.
"Their commitment to building their companies for the long term and furthering their own expertise has been integral to their business growth."
Does it All Come Down to the WIRE-ing?:
What can explain the patterns revealed by these and multiple other surveys and statistics that show the same trends among men and women professionals? Are sociological factors the cause? Or, might it all come down to differences in that biological thing that makes men and women tick – their brains?
While it is clear that sociological factors play a part, one San Francisco neuropsychiatrist says the fundamental differences between how males and females think and feel can be attributed to their wiring.
Louann Brizendine, a graduate of the Yale University School of Medicine, studied the subject and wrote on her findings about the physical and chemical differences between the male and female cranial processing centers in her book "The Female Brain."
She argues that the sooner we all start recognizing and understanding these differences the better. Though she has her fair share of critics, her scientifically prepared case is fascinating, especially after looking at male and female patterns in business behaviors.
In this country, which runs on capitalism and is populated by people always trying to assimilate toward the latest trend (to avoid standing out as an outcast), I leave you with a thought about differences and the bottom line:
What items usually go to the highest bidder at an auction? That same lamp that everyone has? No. It's the one-of-a-kind items that draw the tip-top dollar price.
Now apply that same logic to your business practices and behavior. Don't try to mask your professional styles or actions because they're different than the prevalent ones and/or they don't mimic the glamorous likes of the Ken Lays or Martha Stewarts. Instead, realize their value and market them.
"Minding Her Business" is a column that covers issues affecting women in business and in the workplace. Female professionals (and male, too, if they wish) can use this resource to network, ask questions, receive and offer advice, share personal experiences … and you don’t ever have to leave your office. Just e-mail email@example.com. E-mails are subject to editing for length and content.