Monday, August 28, 2000

Stereotypes can work against women

        Larry Nadler, a professor of communication at Miami University, is a specialist in interpersonal communications and is researching gender and its impact on salary negotiations. The 45-year-old specialist in gender issues and conflict resolution talked with Enquirer business reporter John Eckberg about how male and female managers and workers interact in the workplace.

        Question: Are there any triggers or warning signs about gender bias?

        Answer: A good tip-off that an employee is focusing on their gender — that the employee is talking to a male or female rather than this is my boss — is shown through nonverbal behavior — facial expressions. There's something known as micromomentary expressions. Those are very brief, a fifth-of-a-second in length, facial expressions that show true feelings.

        Often employees have to suppress those things. They may be upset with the boss, but they can't let it show or it's insubordination. But really brief facial expressions may leak out that show how they really feel. A manager could pick up disdain or brief expressions of disdain.

        And it is not just the face. It could be a subordinate using eye contact. People usually in role relationships use more eye contact than the person in higher position. Usually, a person in the lower position is expected to show more eye contact. A person disdainful of a female manager shows less eye contact. But how do you take action against somebody who shows a little less eye contact?

        Then for somebody who is gender skeptical, there is tone of voice. It's not the words but the tone could show less patience, less trust and less respect. Not what they say but how they say it.

        Q: What if it is justified, that is, the managers are in over their head?

        A. Any manager needs to earn respect and trust of their workers, whether male or female. Is it the case that women managers have to work harder to earn that respect, yes. Is that fair or right? No, it is the reality. It doesn't always happen, but there's enough of a trend — and the Arizona State study is consistent with others in the field.

        Truth and honesty in life can be difficult, as truth and honesty in the workplace can sometimes be a challenge.

        Q: Should the female manager confront the employee with “you're not respecting me because I'm a women”?

A: That's a good and difficult question. The reason it's a tough question to answer is simply because a lot of people say women face double-binds. A double-bind is generally this: Either way you choose, you loose.

        A lot comes back to sex role stereotypes and expectations. If we're trying to explain why an Arizona State study produced a finding and why more women managers face unique obstacles, it comes down more than any other factor to sex role stereotypes and expectations.

        For women, the double-bind in our culture is that they have been expected to be nurturing, supportive and dependent upon others, that's the female sex role in our culture. The double-bind is whatever choice a woman makes, there is cost. If woman chooses to be nurturing, on one hand they will be fairly well-accepted and liked as a person.

        But many of those sexual expectations work against her as a manager in the workplace because people tend to think of upper level managers as logical and in control and the female expectations run counter to that.

        The other half of the double-bind: It might help a woman manager to get ahead in the workplace by being more assertive and logical, but the terminology people use to describe assertive women in our culture is ...

        Q: It's not Dear Old Mom, is it?

A: No, it rhymes with witch. Either way she chooses, she loses. So to answer the question, should she confront the employee? You have a double-bind. If she chooses not to, if she just lets it go — conflict avoidance. On the one hand, there's no overt problem — but it is a problem that is not resolved, and the employee will continue to behave that way.

        The problem with calling attention to it is you don't know what will happen as a result.

        If the choice is confrontation, you may win the battle and lose the war. By calling attention to it, the downside is you have addressed one small symptom of the problem — but it may make for a deeper problem.

        It may boomerang. The employee may deny it. And unless the manager can give concrete examples that verify their point, it opens a can of worms. The employee now goes around to fellow workers and says, “Can you believe her? She is so sensitive, and now she's projecting her insecurities onto me.”

        Anytime a manager confronts an employee about something, they better be able to document it.

        Personally, I think that women managers need to lead by example, by actions rather than words. By treating employees with respect, trusting employees and modeling effective behaviors, the manager will come to gain acceptance.

        And there's a large body of research that shows women have better communication skills and can capitalize on that. Women are typically better listeners. They are often more empathetic toward others. They are often more tactful and considerate. When managing conflict, they often use more pro-social strategies: rewards rather than threats, positive reinforcement, openness to what the other person thinks.

        In a sense, a manager is managing two things: the task and relationships. Women in our culture on the whole have very good relational skills. And in the workplace, it's something women managers can capitalize on or utilize to their benefit.


Female managers get less respect
- Stereotypes can work against women
Discipline from women not accepted well
Ethical standards becoming muddled
Teamwork key to setting, meeting goals
Promotions & new on the job