HE SAID, SHE SAID: GENDER DIFFERENCES
Attending a Dr. Pat Heim workshop on gender differences is like standing under a rushing waterfall for a few hours. In Dr. Heimis inimitable style, you get showered with dozens of new ideas about the differences in men and women's work styles. Some of the ideas sting; others bring forth a flow of nods and "ahas" for her audience. Still others change forever your thinking about how men and women work together in today's business environment.
Dr. Heim has addressed HP audiences many times. She was featured speaker at the Technical Women's Conference, was invited to speak as part of the Santa Clara Women's Network series, and has conducted workshops and done development work throughout HP in the last few years.
Dr. Heim is president of Heim and Associates, a consulting firm that designs and delivers activities to support organizational transitions, improve team effectiveness, and enhance professional and managerial skills. She has been an assistant vice-president of management consulting and training for American Medical International and a management and organization development advisor at Rockwell International. She has taught at the Universi ty of Colorado, Loyola Marymount University, and San Diego State Un iversity and is the author of three books.
Inside CSO interviewed Dr. Heim about the subject she knows best: gender differences. She answers in her own peppery and direct style. This interview is in two parts. Here is part one of the conversation. Please send your comments to us about what Dr. Heim has to say about gender differences and we will summarize your responses.
HOW DID YOU GET INTERESTED IN THE SUBJECT OF GENDER DIFFERENCES?
When I was working at American Medical International, I would go to meetings and things would happen in meetings between two men that really surprised me. They would viciously attack each other and then, after the meeting, one would say to the other, "How about having a beer?" This just didn't make any sense to me. So I figured there must be some other system that these men operated in that was different from the human behavioral system I understood. That's what first intrigued me about gender differences.
HOW DID YOU MAKE THE LEAP TO ACTUALLY INVESTIGATING THE SUBJECT?
I was already doing a lot of workshops for the company on communication and management focus, so I started doing research on how men and women behave differently in the work setting. one day, a manager came to me and asked me to do a communication workshop for her managers. I told her that I needed to know what some of the problems were so I could design the workshop to meet their needs. As she began to tell me, I realized she was talking about only women. I'd read enough to know that those were the kinds problems that women have in the work setting and men typically don't. I did this workshop for her managers. Other women in the organization heard about it, including a group of top women. They asked me to lead the workshop for them, and it exploded from there.
PSYCHOLOGICALLY, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BASIC DIFFERENCES IN THINKING BETWEEN THE GENDERS?
One of the big ones is that American boys grow up and spend their entire lives in hierarchies. From the time they're little kids they play games like basketball, baseball, football, cops, robbers, cowboys, Indians and more. I think probably most boys around the world do, but let's focus on Americans. Those are all team sports. When you play on a team, there's a coach, a team captain, star players, average players and bench warmers. So boys grow up living in hierarchies. Boys always know where they stand in the hierarchy. As one man at AT&T said to me, "I always knew my position in the hierarchy.,,
On the other hand, girls play dolls where there's no hierarchy. There's no boss doll player. So girls share power equally. What happens in the work setting is we play out the same kinds of rules. We don't know it, but we do. Men see the work setting hierarchically, and women see the work setting as a flatter organization even though the boss has more power than anybody. An example that I often use in workshops concerns an attorney who once said, "Help me understand this. I have a new assistant whols been out of law school for six months. I give her an assignment, and she starts questioning me. Who does she think she is?" He sees the organization as a hierarchy, and he's at the top of the hierarchy. He's given the ball to the player, told her to run with it, and she wants to talk it over. He sees her as being insubordinate.
She, on the other hand, sees this as a flat structure where she has comments, questions, and suggestions about how to do it better. She believes she's supposed to ask those questions and make suggestions to be a good employee. Both of them are trying to do the right thing, but by two different sets of rules. So, the hierarchy versus the flat structure is a very common problem.
SOME OF THE WORK THAT TOFFLER HAS DONE SHOWS THAT WE'RE GOING FROM A HIERARCHICAL STRUCTURE TO A KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY WITH A MUCH FLATTER STRUCTURE. HOW DOES THAT PLAY OUT IN THE CHANGING CULTURAL ENVIRONMENT?
I certainly see the flatter structure. It plays out in many ways: self-directed work teams, continuous process improvement. I see this trend to a more equitable structure more in HP than in other organizations. I see it more comfortably adapted to in HP. Other organizations know they need to do it, but they don't really understand how to do it and it's very painful. In other organizations, I have seen men who say, "Yes, we need to have a flatter structure but just don't mess with my power."
WHAT ABOUT PROCESS-ORIENTED VERSES GOAL-ORIENTED?
That's the other big one in my mind. Boys grow up playing goal-focused games, and there is no goal in playing dolls. What girls have is an ongoing process. For instance, what men are more likely to do if there's a problem in the workplace is to pull in, think about it, think about it, think about it, and then say, "We need to do X to solve this.,,
women are more likely to go to somebody and say, I have this problem, and then process it externally. They talk to people about it. Because men don't do that, they think a woman looks indecisive -- she looks like she doesn't know what she's doing. As one man in the company said to me about a manager who would always come to him to talk about her problems -- "She can't solve any of her own problems.,' What I told him is she's coming to you to process through options. She can solve them. Even though her plant had the highest productivity and the highest morale of any plant in that company, he wasn't going to promote her because he thought she couldn't solve any of her own problems. That's how he saw it, and he wasn't doing this to be malicious. He felt that he was doing his duty for the organization in not promoting her.
ARE THERE SOME TYPICAL WAYS THESE TWO THINGS, THE HIERARCHICAL AND THE PROCESS VERSUS THE GOAL-ORIENTED, ARE PLAYED OUT AT HP?
The same things play out every day at HP. They are just not as exaggerated as they are in other organizations. But yesterday at HP, a woman and her manager heard me speak at different sessions. Later, she went to him and started talking about a problem and he started to tell her what to do. She said to him, ,I don't want you to fix this. I just want to talk to you about it." He said, "Oh, okay, I get it!"
CAN YOU GIVE US ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF GOAL-ORIENTED VERSUS PROCESS-ORIENTED?
On the weekend, a woman says to her significant other: "I need to buy a black skirt, would you come shopping with me?" He moans and he groans but reluctantly agrees to go. They go to the mall and he makes a beeline for the first women's clothing store. He goes directly to the skirt section, sorts for black, finds her size, holds it up and says, "Here it is, let's go home." To him, he has killed the black skirt and he thinks it's all over! But she's not sure she wants "that" black skirt. She wants to look around in several stores, maybe look for shoes to go with it. Since this is going to take awhile she suggests they have lunch. Now he feels tricked, because to him this was a goal-focused activity. Find black skirt, kill black skirt, go home and watch the game.
He thinks that when he got to the goal, she has moved the goal on him! Yet, to her this all was a process activity. What she was after, in addition to the black skirt, was just spending some time with her sweetheart. Men often think -- she tricked me. She said she wanted this, I found it and then she moved the goal line. Women often feel -- I ask him to spend more than five minutes with me and he starts whining. Here's a caution. Yesterday a woman told me her husband had heard me speak in the morning. Apparently they had had this skirt discussion the weekend before. He called her up and said, "I went to that workshop, and I found out you tricked me.,, That's NOT what I said! I said it looks to him like she tricked him. She did NOT trick him!
HOW ABOUT THE OBVIOUS DIFFERENCES THAT STANDUP COMICS TALK ABOUT ... LIKE MEN NOT WANTING TO ASK FOR DIRECTIONS?
The first person who wrote about men being reluctant to ask for directions was a sociolinguist, Deborah Tannen. It has to do with the hierarchy versus the flat structure. For him, saying that he needs to get to this place and doesn't know where he is puts him down in the hierarchy. For women, who live in a flat culture, you don't lose position by asking somebody directions. So women think, why the heck won't he ask? That is how we misunderstand each other's intent and rules.
Another example of how we misunderstand each other is what happened when my husband and I were building a house. The contractor would make an agreement on Monday that held do a list of stuff. I'd come home on Friday night and virtually nothing had been done. I would go crazy. I would be yelling about the contractor, saying, "He didn't do a thing and I'm so sick of living like this. I can't stand it." My husband would say, "The contractor put a screw in over here. and he put a piece of wood over there."
What I heard was my husband defending the contractor. What was really going on in my husband's eyes is he saw me in pain. He didn't want me to be in pain. He tried to take away my pain by telling me it wasn't as bad as I thought it was.
ARE GENDER DIFFERENCES GOOD OR BAD?
One time at the beginning of a workshop I had a Navy man say to me, "Whols right and whols wrong?" I said, "There's no right or wrong, it's just different." He said, "It's right or wrong.,, Finally I turned to him said, "Okay, you tell me, are chopsticks or silverware right? Which one is right?" He said it didn't matter. After we got through this chopsticks and silverware example, he just sort of backed down. For the rest of the time that I was with this group he was nodding, and he was smiling. He came up to me during the break and said, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that." This always surprises me, because when women fight back they always think they're going to ruin the relationship. Oftentimes what really happens is that men see her as strong, as like him.
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT NATURE VERSUS NURTURE. ARE THESE GENDER DIFFERENCES SOMETHING YOU LEARN OR ARE THEY SOMETHING YOU'RE BORN WITH?
It has become very clear in 20 years of research in the U.S. that to some degree the differences are learned. But it's also very clear that there are obvious biological differences in men and women. There are additional biological differences that we're not even aware of yet. For instance, the brain research on how men and women are different is really in its neophyte stage. We don't even know what we don't know about how men's and women's brains are different. We do know that when it comes to biological and sociological factors, there's some sort of combination. But is it 50/50 or 10/90 or 90/10? We don't know. I don't think we'll know for at least another 20 years what the combination is.
HOW DO YOU THINK THE DIFFERENCES PLAY OUT IN THE WORKPLACE? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MISUNDERSTANDINGS? TALK ABOUT THE INEQUITIES THAT ARISE BECAUSE OF GENDER DIFFERENCES.
Let me give you an example. One of the pieces of research that I frequently talk about is a study that has been replicated many times with the same results. originally, they got a big group of men and women, arbitrarily divided them in half, gave them something to do and then they gave them bogus results. They told half the group, you did particularly well. The other half the group they told, you did particularly poorly. Then they asked them why. When men were asked why they did well, they attributed it to themselves. When women were asked why they did well, they attributed it to effort, the ease of the task, or luck. "I tried real hard, it wasn't hard to begin with, or I got lucky," they said. When asked why they did poorly, men attributed it to factors outside themselves. "You didn't give me enough time," they said. When women were asked why they did poorly, they attributed it to themselves. "I tried, but I just couldn't do it.,,
One of the things that boys learn is that there's this constant jockeying for position in the hierarchy growing up. Boys do it with verbal bantering. They call each other names. This is how they learn to continually jockey for position. They learn not to say, "You're right, I screwed up.,, You have to do this to be successful in a boy's social system.
Girls live in a flat culture. If something goes wrong, a girl is likely to take the blame even if she didn't do it to keep the relationship in tact. Let's say you spill something. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to.,, Somehow I say it was my fault for putting something there that caused you to spill it, because that makes our relationship okav. Relationship is central in the female culture. Can you see how that contributes to how we talk in adulthood? Something happens at work and things got screwed up and he points outward -- "Hey, it had nothing to do with me.,,
For example, I was talking to physicians who run resident programs. I asked them how this applies to the residents. They said that when a male resident has a patient die he tends to attribute it to the system. "If only the ER had done this. if only the patient had come in earlier." When a female resident has a patient die, they tend to blame themselves. "If only I'd considered this. If only I'd done this.,, What happens with the residents is they get evaluated differently, not for the technical decision they made, but for how they talk about the decision they made.
The same thing happens all the time everywhere. If things get screwed up, how the person talks about the decision has a whole lot to do with how they are viewed as being culpable or not in that situation. Therefore, look at who you are likely to choose for future jobs or how you're likely to evaluate that person.
I was working with one of the big banks in San Francisco that's starting a women's initiative because one of the big problems that woman business owners have is getting loans. One of the things that we talked about is that when the bank is reviewing credit, if men have poor credit, they tend to point outward. "It wasn't my fault." Women tend to say, "Oh, if I'd only tried harder." I'm trying to get bankers to quit listening to how the customer talks about it and look at the numbers and the person's real ability to repay rather than how they presented it.