Woman CEOAs we celebrate Women’s History Month, I felt it important to look at some of the different expectations for women in the workplace and offer ways they can be more successful.

In her weekly blog, author and organizational development expert Dr. Anne Litwin sites study after study that conclude that women perform better than men in areas of leadership, management and decision-making.  Yet women only make up 3 to 4 percent of CEO’s worldwide.

In one study, women scored higher than men in twelve of sixteen leadership competencies.  In a Gallup study, women outscored men on eleven out of twelve measures of engagement – which is a significant contributor to company performance.  Another study reveals that women are better decision makers under stress.  In a crisis, women are more attuned to others’ needs, take fewer risks and look for common ground, while men become more willing to risk a lot for the slim chance of winning big.

In spite of what the research shows, women continue to face greater challenges as a result of different gender-based expectations. In Dr. Litwin’s book “New Rules For Women At Work,” she points out that how women – particularly those in leadership roles – relate to other women can make or break them.

According to Dr. Litwin, many women say they don’t like working for other women – which she says is because their relationship expectations are often different than they are for men. She believes that women are victims of a double-bind. The traditional masculine workplace values and rewards being task-focused and autonomous.  But women are also expected to be more relational and friendly than their male counterparts.  Relational, friendly behavior is expected and said to be valued, but it is not typically rewarded.

To add to the problem, the relationship boundaries between women who work together are sometimes confusing and often run counter to how they typically relate to one another.  This becomes even more of an issue when a peer or friend becomes the boss.

At the heart of the matter is that women are raised with the common belief that when it comes to power, they are all equal – no matter their position.  When this belief is challenged by rank, problems ensue.  One solution is for more senior women to help their colleagues talk through issues and reach agreement about workplace relationships and expectations.

In Dr. Litwin’s book, she suggests using “role hats” – a process for switching communication styles depending on the nature of the interaction. Different rules apply when wearing the “friend role hat” versus the “boss or co-worker role hat.”

Using “role hats” requires that all parties understand and agree in advance about the expectations for different types of interaction.  For “role hats” to be effective, she encourages women to name each role – friend, boss, co-worker, colleague, etc. – and to discuss each person’s needs when in each role. Deciding on ground rules in advance  reduces misunderstandings and provides the necessary context for women to communicate based on their mutual needs.  For instance it’s okay to ask questions like, “Which hat are you wearing right now?” or, “Can you switch hats for me?” This signals a change in nature of the conversation in a way that is clear to all parties.

If you’re a woman, or a man who works with women, it’s important to know that the expectations and rules for men and women are different.  For a better understanding of how those differences play out at work, pick up a copy of “New Rules For Women At Work.” It provides a framework for often-invisible gender dynamics that influence workplace relationships and is the result of decades of Dr. Litwin’s research across cultures and in different countries.

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