Three FAQs from working women

Despite all the changes over the years, women in many workplaces still seem surprised by what the men around them do or say. John M McKee shares the three questions he gets most frequently from women readers and clients.

In many tech-centered organizations, the department heads are, more often than not, guys. That's not a surprise. In most such organizations, there are more male employees. And while there are a lot of opinions about why that's the case, it is what it is.

Even in today's workplace, for a woman in a male-dominated space, life can be a bit confusing. I frequently receive email from female clients and readers asking questions as they try to move in tandem with the men around them. Most of the questions are of the nature, "What's up with that?"

Readers of this blog (who likewise are predominately guys) might be interested to see the three most frequently asked questions I'm asked by women:

1. What is it about the word "no" that guys don't understand?

2. Is it still true that guys spend over half the day thinking about sex?

3. Why do my male coworkers keep getting credit for my ideas?

Note that only one of these FAQs (that would be the last one) is specifically job related. But all can affect productivity.

My answers:

1. Guys are more likely to have learned how to "tune out" the word "no" without realizing it. Many pick up this behavior in competitive environments as they grow up. Interestingly this hasn't changed significantly despite a lot of energy directed to it by both moms and dads. Here's the experts' consensus:

When growing up girls are still more likely to prefer games where everyone wins. It seems to sit better with them. Little boys on the other hand are often more likely to play games where there are clear winners and losers. Research shows that when either is involved in competitive sports while growing up, they learn that they can affect things by pushing back, or convincing others. For example, when a coach wants to pull a player because of lack of performance, they learn quickly how to convince the coach to give you another chance even if (s)he said you were finished for the game. More often than girls, the boys learned that the "no" really meant, "Convince me and I'll let you do it."

2. Guys "only" think about sex several times a day according to a 2007 article about men and sex in Psychology Today. However, depending on the age of the guy, he may be much more likely to joke about it with others in meetings -- so it can feel like men think about it half of the day. (As an FYI, only about 19% of women think about sex every day according to another study.

3. Women aren't just making this up. They really can miss getting the credit they deserve for their ideas due to both style and gender. The reasons have to do with how they deliver the message and where they are when doing it. Because of a woman's particular pitch, tone, and volume, she may simply not be heard over the guys when several people are speaking during a meeting. And if the boss is male, that's even more pronounced because guys often have less of a range of hearing -- women are more likely to hear higher highs and lower lows. My advice: make sure you're sitting in clear view of the person who's asking for ideas, and make sure you really do get heard.

Here's to your success!