Dealing with Gender Issues in the Workplace

Men and women have had trouble communicating effectively since the beginning of time, and it's not just in the workplace. In fact, the differences between the genders have long been the topic of debate and the subject of many books. When it comes to the workplace, however, it's not important that you even try to understand the differences between the genders. That's an exhaustive subject that someone would probably never fully comprehend anyway. It is critical, though, that you learn the skills needed to work together in harmony, and practice effective communication.

Gender Issues in the Workplace

Sorry guys, but it's a fact. Although you might not like to hear that women are still discriminated against in the workplace, it's a fact. It's true that women now get positions formerly held by only men. And it's true that most men have respect for professional women in the workplace and no longer hold the "cave man" belief that women belong at home, raising kids and cooking meals. However, discrepancies between men and women – and some amount of discrimination – still exists.

Discrepancies in Pay

According to Harvard Independent, women still don't earn the same salaries as men for the same job status or position. In fact, a woman earns just 80 cents for every dollar earned by her male peer. This holds true even though more women than men hold bachelor's degrees, and women are enrolling in college more often than men. The differences in pay don't just occur early on in their careers either. Throughout their careers, women continue to earn less money than their male counterparts.

The reason for the differences in pay reflect societal and cultural views on family and children. Women typically get pregnant in the middle of a career. They take time off for maternity leave. Once they have a child, they don't work as many hours as their male counterparts because of sick children, activities, and other events that occur as a result of motherhood. In addition, they also tend to travel less frequently once they have a child. Because of this, they can get passed up for promotions.

That's not to say the difference in pay is due to the fact that women tend to not work as many hours after having a child as they do before. It's not that at all. Instead, it's that society expects women to take on a greater share of household and family responsibility. When a child is born, the mother does not get paid for maternity leave, so the father continues to work. After the child is born, it is the mother who is expected to take off for to care for the child more often than the father. That's not to say men don't take off time for their kids. They do. However, in most situations, it is the women – the mother. To an organization, this can appear as not putting their job status as a priority, as not being available for the time required for that new promotion, and a slew of other problems.

But what can we do about it? The answer is too complex to tackle in this course. However, it's important to understand the perceptions of the different genders in the workplace. Men are still viewed as the providers, as the ones that will work the long hours and do what it takes to get ahead for the better of their families. Women are still viewed as the ones responsible for household obligations and nurturing their children.The truth is, both genders value their careers and personal advancement. Women shatter glass ceilings every day – and it's not because they're just marking time until they start a family.


Men and women typically communicate in different ways, making it very easy for disagreements and misunderstandings to happen.


In addition, women are expected to be more demure. A woman who is aggressive can still be seen as a monster, as someone you don't want to be around or promote. However, a man who is aggressive is seen as powerful, and someone who will go far in his chosen career path.

Common Gender Stereotypes

Stereotypes cause a lot of misconceptions in the workplace. It doesn't matter if we're talking about gender, race, or color. As with any stereotype, gender stereotypes prevent effective communication between men and women. They can even create friction and discord, which lessens company morale and productivity.

Listed below are some common stereotypes about women in the workplace. Again, these are stereotypes. They also highlight the differences between the ways men are viewed in the workplace, as opposed to women.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Sensitivity Training for the Workplace course?
  • Women aren't as experienced in sports as men, so they can't be as good team players.
  • Assertive women are trouble – or worse: feminazis.
  • Women aren't committed to their work, because of family obligations.
  • Women don't work well with other women, because they're catty.
  • Women are the primary source of gossip in a workplace.
  • Women are too emotional.

So far in this section, we've talked about how women can be negatively portrayed in the workplace, but they are not the only ones. Men can be unfairly portrayed, too. While the stereotypes pinned on the female gender can make a woman seem not as capable, devoted, or qualified, the stereotypes cast on men can make them seem like inhuman perverts, only out for their own success and satisfaction.

Here are a few of the stereotypes that are applied to the male gender in the workplace:

  • Men are focused on their careers. Family takes second place.
  • Men aren't emotional. In other words, they don't care about anyone's feelings.
  • Men can't treat attractive female colleagues as equals, because they only view them as sex objects.
  • Men will never see women as their equals in the workplace, because they don't want them to be.
  • Men are all part of the "good ole boys" club and always help each other get promotions – over other women colleagues.

The truth is, men and women are in the workplace for the same reason: to advance their career and earn a living. How they choose to do so depends on many factors including education, culture, behavior, and goals – just to name a few. Even though the genders may communicate differently and do things a little differently at times, that doesn't mean that they're not equal and equally committed to the task at hand, their job, and their career. Applying a stereotype to either gender can only result in miscommunication, frustration, and discord in the workplace. Nobody gets ahead when that happens.

It's important to remember that we are all individuals. Even though men and women are two very different creatures, we're all still individuals. Applying a stereotype to anyone is a dangerous thing to do. Not only are stereotypes a bias, and inaccurate, they can also lead to a legal nightmare if stereotyping someone leads to discrimination. People in the workplace are professionals, and they all should behave as such in their own individual way.

Gender Roles in the Workplace

Both men and women want to get ahead in the workplace. That should go without saying. Whether you are male or female, there's little doubt that part of the reason you are taking this course right now is for the advancement of your career – either now or in the future.

Men and women are also equal in the workplace. That's not just a statement. That's the law. You cannot treat men different from women – or vice versa. While it seems like those laws may favor women at times, it also makes it possible for men to take paternity leave, use sick days to care for children, and other things that used to be female-only roles.

However, that doesn't mean that there aren't gender roles in the workplace that can affect the success of someone from a certain gender. Although the roles themselves aren't important to this course, understanding the traditional roles and the behavior of a colleague from the opposite gender may help you to understand their feelings and values -- therefore, creating respect.

Female Roles

  • Female CEOs who are very vocal are seen as less competent than quieter ones.
  • Women are viewed as better team players, since they're also viewed as supportive and rewarding.
  • Women are persuasive, because they can read a situation and gather information from all sides.
  • Women like a challenge. According to a study by Accenture, 70 percent of business women asked their boss for a challenge at work, compared to less than 50 percent of the business men that were polled.
  • Women are honest, hard workers. According to polls by theFit, 54 percent of women worked nine to 11 hours a day. This is compared to 41 percent of men.

Male Roles

  • Male CEOs who were quieter were seen as less competent than vocal ones.
  • Men are early adopters of technology. An Accenture study found that men adopted technology earlier and relied on it more than women.
  • Men ask for what they want. Research by Accenture shows that only 45 percent of women are willing to ask for a raise. Compare that to 61 percent of men.
  • Men convey more confidence when they aren't prepared for a task or something else at work.
  • Men make friends in high places and get more promotions. In a 2008 Catalyst survey on mentorship, 72 percent of the men received promotions by 2010, but only 65 percent of the women received promotions.

However, remember that the roles are not written in stone. There are women in the workplace who display more masculine behaviors and vice versa. A balance of masculine and feminine qualities has proven to be the strategy for success for individuals, teams, and organizations.

Communication Between the Genders

Effective communication between individuals, teams, or groups depends on a lot of factors. As we've discussed in this course, tone of voice, body language, communication style, and the words used all determine how effective communication is or isn't. Gender also plays a part in communication.

Men and women traditionally communicate in different ways. Each have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to communication, and use different methods to communicate their thoughts, ideas, and feelings. Understanding these differences can lead to improved communication between the genders in the workplace.

In this section of the article, we're going to detail the strengths and weaknesses for both men and women when it comes to communicating. Keep in mind that not all the female strengths will apply to women and vice versa. However, these aren't stereotypes either. These are proven facts. After that, we'll suggest strategies for communicating with the opposite gender to help improve the effectiveness of communication between men and women in the workplace.


Women are great at reading body language and picking up other non-verbal cues when communicating with other people. They're also good listeners, and effective at showing empathy. However, these same strengths can also be weaknesses when they get too emotional, become too demure and not authoritative enough, or won't get to the point as quickly as needed.


Men exude a strong physical presence when communicating with others. The way they stand or carry themselves displays confidence and power, as does the body language they use. Men also tend to get to the point quickly. However, these strengths can also turn into weaknesses when they get too blunt. Men can be seen as insensitive to others and too confident in their thoughts, ideas, or selves.

Strategies for Effective Communication

To achieve effective communication between the genders in the workplace, we need to find a way to build the communication gap that exists. Below are strategies that we devised to help your verbal and non-verbal communications with a person of the opposite gender as effective as possible.

Communication Strategies for Women

Men and women communicate differently. If you're a woman, most likely you can relate to some of the traits that we've described as feminine communication styles. However, being aware of the conversation styles of your male counterparts will give you insight and help improve the effectiveness of communication.

When communicating, men:

  • Value is on achieving results
  • Asking for help is admitting lack of ability
  • Focus on statistics
  • Tell stories to "one up" the other person
  • Want to solve the problem right away

When communicating with men, women need to get to the bottom line as quickly as possible. Avoid telling drawn out stories when you can. If you feel the need to tell a story, though, use gender neutral metaphors and analogies in your stories, such as metaphors and analogies about the weather, etc.

Women have to remember that men aren't going to talk until they have the information they need, so women should wait until a man is ready for discussion. When they do talk, it's time to observe and listen. Don't process what they say out loud.

Since women are more nurturing, it's natural for a woman to offer to help a co-worker or employee. However, to a man, that's viewed as a lack of confidence in his abilities. Women shouldn't be quick to offer advice. Instead, be willing to give the advice or assistance when asked.

Communication Strategies for Men
Women in the workplace:
  • Share experiences to find common ground
  • Build off each other's points
  • Talk about problems and solve them together
  • Processing is used as a way to build relationships
  • Place emphasis on communication and feelings
  • Offer assistance to be helpful, and because they care

When a woman tells a story during a discussion, she is trying to find common ground with the other people participating in the discussion. She's not trying to waste time or beat around the bush. Instead, she's trying to forge a relationship with you. When she processes what you say out loud, it's her attempt to include everyone and – again – forge a relationship. A woman also appreciates it if you offer to help, and you should offer. To her, it shows you are supportive.