Overcoming Gender Differences

A new report adds a different perspective to the glass ceiling discussion

Though women’s low self-ratings are not a direct cause for their limited representation in senior leadership roles, the ratings can indirectly play into how women are perceived in an organization. If a woman rates her contributions as low, she is less likely to effectively self-promote her contributions in the organization, which in turn, may lead her manager(s) to assess her skills and potential inaccurately. “Managers are looking at behavior—what they are discerning is how [the woman] talks about her work, how she talks about her problem solving skills at work, and how she talks about her relationships with the people that have to be influenced at work,” says Verna Ford, executive consultant for the Novations Group.

Ford suggests that women are less likely to position themselves as leaders. “Let’s say there’s been a really huge success. A woman is more likely to say all the credit goes to the team and a guy is more likely to say, ‘I led the team to victory,’” she says. “So when a manager is thinking back about who is the leader in the organization, what he probably heard from the woman is, ‘I’m nothing without the team,’ whereas he heard the guy say, ‘the team is nothing without me.’” Therefore, she concludes, the woman gets rated as a stage 1 player (dependent contributor) and the man is rated as a stage 3 contributor.

Ancella B. Livers, Ph.D., executive director of the Executive Leadership Council’s Institute for Leadership Development & Research, believes that women need to strategically share their accomplishments as well as get others to tell their successes. “We have to recognize that it’s not just bragging—you don’t have to do it every day, but do it strategically,” she explains. “Ask, who are the people that need to know and what is the best way of informing people? How do I do it in multiple ways?” Livers recommends examining the reasons for low ratings and recommends seeking an executive coach or a mentor, as well as feedback from your manager or peers.

Ford believes that the results of this study should force corporations to be more open to the difference in leadership styles of men and women. The report states that because women go about their work differently, such as building consensus early in a project, giving credit to others more often than taking credit for a project’s success and providing nonauthoritarian leadership, that their efforts go unmeasured, or unnoticed. “The fairest thing for the organization to do,” suggests Ford, “is acknowledge the differences and measure the outcome [of a project] instead of measuring the reporting of how the outcomes were arrived at.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.

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