By Goke Ilesanmi
Does the syndrome of general inequality or gender disparity conspicuously manifest in your organisation? If it does, it is a seed of discord that should not be allowed to germinate nor have roots because no one wants to feel like a second-class citizen. Yet, many workplaces have cultures and systems that do just that by creating a sense of inequality among employees. This is one big reason why communication and teamwork never take hold.
Equal distribution of resources
To create an atmosphere of equality in your workplace, you need to end the unfair, unequal distribution of resources and review the compensation system. This step can involve stopping certain privileges (special parking) as well as opening restricted tools and resources to everyone (e-mail and data). Tom Terez, a speaker, workshop leader, and author of 22 Keys to Creating a Meaningful Workplace says if your organisation’s compensation system widens the divide between people, and you are in a position to do something about it, start the renewal process by obsessively learning better approaches. Call in some outside experts, involve employees, and get clear what you want the new system to achieve.
Adopting modern meeting model
Another thing is to adopt a modern meeting model by scrapping the old meeting model in which the boss sits at the head of the table and efficiently goes through the agenda. Put the chairs in a circle, have participants take turns facilitating, and open the conversation. Terez stresses that if you are in no position to make this happen, exert influence by offering to help create the agenda, take notes, or facilitate.
As regards the issue of gender disparity or discrimination, when fixed perceptions lead us to prejudge people’s abilities and develop unfair expectations, we jeopardise the chances of productive relationships and effective communication. According to Jane Sanders, author of GenderSmart: Solving The Communication Puzzle Between Men and Women, the sexes are saturated with, even defined by, many differences. Stereotyped, evolutionary, biological and social differences, to name a few.
It is not surprising then that a gender gap exists, especially when it comes to communication. Closing the gap is possible, however, and certainly desirable as more women enter the workforce and move higher within the ranks of their companies. The benefits of improved communication between men and women at work are numerous. These positive outcomes can include more effective teamwork, better sales results, more satisfied customers, higher job satisfaction, increased harmony and lower stress, and even reduced sexual harassment problems all consistent with human resource goals.
One of the ways to close the gap and increase the effectiveness of our communication with the opposite sex is through understanding and awareness. Becoming familiar with the many differences between men and women, and understanding that these differences are desirable and arbitrary, not right or wrong, will diminish the majority of communication problems. Recognising how our own behaviour and language styles differ, thereby triggering misperceptions and misunderstandings by the opposite sex, goes a long way in improving communication.
Experts like Sanders say the following simple yet meaningful exercise will help demonstrate the effect of seemingly innocent stereotypes on judgements of others. It will take only a few minutes, and there are no wrong answers. Very quickly, using your first impression, indicate beside each adjective below which sex the word best describes. Use M for Male; F for Female and B for Both only if the word immediately brings to mind both men and women. Be honest and record your very first response!
Entrepreneur; scuba diver; critical; hiker; funny; cheerful; likes children; lifeguard; intelligent; good cook; romantic; fussy; horseback rider; skydiver; impetuous; impatient; too sensitive; persistent; assertive; intense; nurturing; committed; talkative; dynamic; aggressive; fashionable; independent; daring; competent; outspoken; compassionate; logical; intuitive; gentle; warm; ; emotional; competitive; football fan; likes flowers; self-starter.
Glancing over your responses, notice the number of M’s, F’s, and B’s. Most people get a good mix of all three. Looking at the list of adjectives, is there any one word that could not describe either sex? And if not, then all the M’s and F’s recorded indicate subconscious (and sometimes not so subconscious) stereotyped beliefs.
Sanders stresses that keeping in mind that simply believing that some of these descriptions are gender-based is not wrong, nor a ‘bad’ thing to do. Stereotypes, after all, develop from observed behavioural generalities. For example, probably close to 100% of those completing this exercise indicated Female for the descriptions of emotional and nurturing, and Male for the words aggressive and competitive. However, if stereotypes are used to form opinions about other elements of a person’s capabilities or behaviour, then problems arise. Doing so is unfair because it is mere assumption.
The major message in this exercise is that the mere fact that a woman may be emotional, too sensitive in certain situations, nurturing, and a good cook, does not prevent her from also being decisive, competent, intelligent, and driven. And just because a man might be decisive, aggressive, logical, and independent does not mean that he is not also nurturing, sensitive and gentle in certain situations.
For any organisation that wants to succeed, general disparity or sexism is a menace that must not be allowed to thrive.
Till we meet on Wednesday.
GOKE ILESANMI, Managing Consultant/CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is an International Platinum Columnist, Certified Public Speaker/MC, Communication Specialist, Motivational Speaker and Career Management Coach. He is also a Book Reviewer, Biographer and Editorial Consultant.
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