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Women: 3 Ways to Get More Respect

Working women say they still suffer setbacks in the office. One guy weighs in with a few suggestions.

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Over the years, I've heard many women, mostly in male-dominated industries, observe that they don't seem to get the respect they deserve from the aforesaid males–and that the lack of respect has had adverse consequences on their careers.

I have no doubt that's true. I'm also well aware that by writing about this subject, I'm running full speed into a mine field.

Even so, I have a few suggestions for women who want more respect from the men at their workplace.

1. Stop Blaming (Just) the Men

Repeated surveys reveal that most women would rather work for men than for other women. For example, a 2009 poll of 2,000 women either with part- or full-time employment revealed that two-thirds were happier having a male boss. Female bosses were seen as being more "prone to mood swings" while men tended to be more authoritative, better at decision-making and more likely to be straight-talkers.

Needless to say, the existence of these perceptions doesn't mean that they're an accurate portrayal of reality. Both men and women alike believe all sorts of nonsense. (For instance, 40% of Americans believe astrology is scientific.) However, the fact that many women share the stereotypes about female bosses strongly suggests that it's a cultural phenomenon rather than something that one gender is doing intentionally.

More importantly, focusing solely on men's attitudes can make you less effective–because you're more likely to be blindsided when the same attitudes crop up in women. And let's face it: Pointing fingers doesn't help you much anyway.

2. Articulate Value–Not Statistics

Most people have heard the statistic that women earn from 20% to 25% less than men in the workplace.  That statistic is misleading, however, because it compares the weekly wages of all women to all men. According to an economic study issued by Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, if you compare average hourly wages (rather than weekly wages) and factor in education, experience and other variables like industry, occupation and union status, the difference falls to 6.2%.

Now that's still statistically significant, but it's comparing all men to all women. If you focus on women and men just entering the workplace, it's the women who earn more than the men on average. More women are graduating from college than men; more women are entering into high-status careers as doctors and lawyers. So whatever the case might have been in the past, conditions have clearly changed and the change is accelerating.

However, let's assume for a moment that the 25% figure is totally accurate and totally valid, now and forever. How is that useful to you, except as a handy excuse for why you're not being paid what you deserve to be paid? That statistic creates false "social proof" that it's normal (and therefore OK) to pay women less, because (supposedly) everyone else is doing it. So if you quote that statistic, you may be shooting yourself in the foot.

But all that aside, let's be honest here. Statistics aren't going to get you more money; your value to your organization is. Make sure you know how to articulate your value as clearly and completely as possible.  Then the statistic–whatever it is–will be pretty much irrelevant, at least in your case.

3. Adapt Your Communication Style

As long as we're on the subject of bogus statistics, how about the oft-quoted statistics that women talk more than men? Here's an example:, in 2006, a psychologist published a book stating that the average woman speaks 20,000 words in a day, 13,000 more than the average man. Dig around on the web, and you'll quickly find similar stats, all of which appear to be quoting each other without any real science behind the numbers.

Turns out that when scientifically valid research methodology is applied to the question, there is no statistical difference between the number of words that the average man and the average woman uses. When scientists pinned microphones on both genders and actually counted the number of words used, they discovered that both sexes, on average, use about 16,000 words a day.

In other words, the stereotype of the chatty female is BS, plain and simple.

However, there was one significant difference: the subject matter.  According to the study, "women tend to talk more about relationships [and] their everyday conversation is more studded with pronouns [while] men tend to talk more about sports and gadgets, and their utterances include more numbers."

Now, I could just give some corny 1977-style "how to get on with the boys" advice, but you already know how to do that. Here's my advice instead: Don't worry about the gender of the person you're talking to.  Instead, listen–really listen–to how each person communicates, regardless of gender, then adapt your communication style according.

Talking to a gearhead, male or female? Talk gadgets and numbers.  When talking to someone who's more in tune with emotions, make a more emotional connection.

This approach works better than basing your communication style on gender because many people don't fit gender stereotypes or even gender norms.

In other words, what's "average" doesn't mean much when you're one on one, or even one-on-several.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the subject. You may disagree–so readers of both genders should feel free to correct me by leaving a comment.

And if you want pointers on how on sales and marketing from top gurus, sign up for the free Sales Source newsletter.

Last updated: Apr 19, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES did a lot of business stuff and wrote a slew of articles and books. Now he writes this column. Preorder his new book, Business Without the Bullsh*t, by May 12 and get an exclusive bonus chapter and a signed bookplate.
@Sales_Source




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