In many countries of the world, and in prior years here in the USA, the workplace consisted of a clear authoritarian structure and chain of command. The scarcity of jobs and the need to feed the family left many people passively submissive to any orders given them by their “boss.” Workers obeyed orders, kept their gripes and personal issues to themselves, and rarely defied authority.
Today, many of us are “knowledge workers”, with education, freedom, and opinions of our own. We need a more participative and persuasive form of management, not an authoritarian one. Yet, many of our managers are older and “old-style.” We have managers all over the world with different styles and workers all over the world with different expectations and experiences as to how they should be managed.
The games we play as children have an effect on how we manage and want to be managed. Girls play house and actress and roles are equal. Boys play sports where there is a clear structure and chain of command. Yes, this is changing today – but not totally. So, I’m offering a generalization (not a stereotype – which I will discuss next) in order to explain some of the misunderstandings and conflict common to today’s workplace.
Because of these early childhood experiences many women tend to be more collaborative than men. We like to talk things over. Men, less verbal and more action oriented are more likely to think things through in their heads and then offer a pronouncement of their decision. Some women bristle at this style, others learn to adapt. Men are also learning to adapt to our more egalitarian, collaborative and discussion-involved style.
A funny example: prior to women being made partners in law firms, men knew their place. The junior associates, when invited into the staff meeting, were there to receive information, not offer it (as in children should be seen and not heard). The senior partners could discuss issues brought up by the managing partner. Others could not. Well, we women never learned those rules. When we came in, we thought we had an equal right to raise our opinions. In the beginning of the changes, heads rolled. Today, of course, there is an integration of men and women and diverse styles even in the law firms staff meetings.
Generalizations, Stereotypes and Prejudice
OK, before I go any further and get into trouble, let’s make some distinctions. A generalization is a statistical average. “Most people” are … or do …, etc. Height is a good example of this. The generalization: most American women are between 5’4” and 5’8”. Does that mean all women are – NO. Does that mean someone smaller is not American – Not necessarily. But the generalization helps clothing manufacturers.
The stereotype is to believe that all women must be between those numbers and that someone is not a woman if they are either taller or shorter. Finally, the prejudice is to pre-judge any woman before even meeting them, or measuring them.