Making Business Happen: How Men and Women Differ

I will never forget my shock at an incident that occurred my first day on the job as a partner at a professional services firm – and the only female partner in the office. I met the managing partner (my peer from an experiential standpoint) early to kick things off at my new place of employment. After discussing a couple of housekeeping items, I expected him to show me to (what I thought would be) my office – the only one open on the floor. Instead, he told me to sit in a cubicle. Had I heard him correctly? Yes, he assured me, I had. The firm would be going to “hoteling” soon and nobody would have a permanent space. But I noticed that he and the other male partner had offices and it didn’t look as if they were going anywhere now or ever.

What to do? How would it look to the junior women professionals (not to mention the men) if the only female partner sat in a cube while the male partners were comfortably ensconced in their offices? As far as I was concerned, there was no decision – only the right course of action. The next morning I arrived earlier than anyone else, went in to the unoccupied office and plunked down my belongings complete with pictures of my children on the credenza. Nobody said a thing… and I stayed there for my length of my tenure at the firm.

I am the anomaly among women in the way I tackle decisions in the workplace. Research has shown that due to societal influences from the time we are young, more women feel that situations cannot be changed and that we perceive circumstances to be fixed and absolute. According to psychologists and academics, women more often subscribe to the “life happens to us” mentality. More men, on the other hand, think situations are flexible and that life is full of opportunities to change things to suit their need/desires – they “make life happen.”

Unfortunately, this difference in how men and women perceive the flexibility (or lack thereof) in business decisions both large and small and their ability to control their environment contributes to the micro-inequalities that women experience on a daily basis. How many men do you know who would have obligingly sat in the cubicle? How many women? While I don’t think that women should ever feel they have to be “one of the guys” to succeed, we must learn to view the business world in a similar fashion to our male peers and realize that decisions and rules can be changed – to our advantage. We can and should “make it happen.”

In past blogs, readers have requested advice on how to make some of the changes that I suggest. While I don’t have the room to do that here, my book, Lessons from the Trenches: A Woman’s Guide to Winning the Corporate Game addresses many of them. We can and will learn how to play the game, one rule at a time.

By Erin Wolf

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