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Gender Benders

Dianna Booher

Little did we know that the communication differences we experienced as kids on the playground would move from the classroom to the boardroom. As the face of business changes with more women occupying key management positions, the necessity of narrowing the gender communication gap is growing: miscommunication can cost money, opportunities, and jobs.

Statistics tell the story. Women compose half the professional managerial workforce. Half the students who earned college degrees last year were women. Of those who have a personal net worth of more than $500,000, more than half are women. American women collectively earn more than $1 trillion a year. More than 7.7 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. generate $1.4 trillion a year. Women make up 35 percent of the country's 51 million shareholders.

Though researches in the 1970s predicted the disappearance of gender communication differences as women moved into higher management positions, the gap*or "disconnection"*remains. Where does this lack of awareness surface most often? In organizations where one gender primarily sells to buyers of the same gender. For example, stock brokers. For years, male stock brokers have been selling primarily to other males-their comfort zone. Another example is the residential real estate industry where female agents dominate the scene. A third example, the health-care industry. In fact the potential for gender communication gaps are widest in those organizations where one gender occupies most of the senior executive positions.

As the traditional picture changes and both men and women must communicate on teams, manage, and sell to the other gender, their awareness grows. Yet the result is often frustration. In other words, they experience the problem but don't know where to start to expand their repertoire of communication skills.

Professionals and companies which create cultures that encourage both genders in their career paths and recognize the accomplishments and contributions of both men and women will be the most productive and satisfied. And that will be the competitive advantage at the turn of the century. Neither men nor women are better communicators. They're just different. Learn to recognize these general differences in the way the two genders communicate and be more effective with the other half of the business community.

Questions. As females grow up in our culture, they are taught not to be confrontational*not to make a scene or be aggressive or pushy. So how do they express opposition to an idea? Often they use indirect channels such as questions. They, of course, also use questions in the traditional way*to solicit information to make people rethink their positions, plans, or ideas.

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