Is coaching different for women?

Accompany’s efforts to support women in organizations are being met with great interest everywhere.

However, when I mention our “Coaching for Women Managers” program to high-level female managers, they often have a strangely consistent reaction: “So is coaching for women different from coaching for men? At the end of the day, it is about performance on the job, and performance is the same for women and men, right?”

Coaching women is different because women encounter different issues on the job. Here are only some reasons::

 

  • The “double bind dilemma“: men are seen as the “default leaders” (by both men and women!). Women are generally evaluated against a “masculine” standard of leadership, leaving them with two unsatisfying options: either they behave according to gender stereotypes, and risk being considered as too soft and less competent, or they behave according to the masculine standards and are considered as too tough, bitchy and unfeminine.
  • Self-confidence: Studies show that on average a man will feel competent enough for a job when he has 50% competence to start with, when a woman who has 80% competence may still hesitate around the “missing” 20%. Rather than lacking self-confidence, women tend to hold themselves to higher standards. In a competitive world, the resulting “hesitation” to apply for high-level jobs, taking a moment to think it over, to ponder the requirements, risks and responsibilities, is often interpreted as a weakness.
  • Women Don’t Ask“: This is actually the title of the wonderful book in which Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever describe how women “neglect to negotiate” their starting salaries, their position or their promotion. When asked about their negotiation experiences, many women answer “I bargain every day with my children and believe me, I’ve learned all the tricks.” Well yes, but that’s really negotiating for the benefit of the other (the kid, equal treatment between them, or similar). We are talking about negotiating for your own advantage!
  • Coping with the double burden of family and career: as things are today, women usually still take on the vast majority of household chores and children’s education. This requires at the very minimum a strict discipline, and part of this discipline needs to be imposed on the organization. Yes, my lunch-break has to be from 12:00 to 13:30, and I cannot stay after 18:00. I’m sorry but the meeting that we scheduled for 17:00 cannot be postponed to 17:45 as I leave at 18:00. These can be tough choices, especially if the organization interprets them as “of course we understand that your priorities are not on your career at this time”, and it may be the right moment to consider switching to an organization that offers women better perspectives.

 

For all these reasons, “equal treatment” can be a form of discrimination. Organizations need to understand and take into account these different needs and refrain from interpreting women’s behaviors according to male standards. On the other hand, women benefit from learning to understand the language of male-dominated organizational cultures and to communicate in ways that will avoid misunderstandings in such an environment, in other words, becoming fluent in “gender-bilingualism”.

Do not hesitate to download our “Coaching for Women Managers” brochure and to forward it to friends that may benefit from a “gender-bilingual” coach.

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6 thoughts on “Is coaching different for women?

  1. I can recognize myself in every word of this article….It’s always very important for me when somebody shows me how I’m in such a clear way…I’m very curious to see how the coaching program works: maybe does it try to teach women how to change their approach in order to get over the differences between women and men, or maybe it trys to teach women how to change the job enviroment, adapting it to their needs and imposing new standards for business?Probably there is a third way, the correct one, which is the one I didn’t think about.Thank you very muchSilvia

  2. Silvia,Thanks for your interest and thanks for your excellent questions.I assume you downloaded our "Coaching for Women Managers" brochure, that attempts to address some of your points. If not, you can find it here.But let me say a few things that seem relevant to your questions:Regarding coaching in general, a coach does not teach. Have you ever thought about all those things you perfectly well "know", but for some reason you don’t apply your knowledge in what you do? The coach’s job is to help you actually do the things you always wanted to achieve. Coaching is about action and – yes – about adopting more effective approaches towards ourselves and towards our job and our general environment.In that sense, the program will be defined as much by the client as by the coach.Now I do have my personal beliefs, as you might imagine. I believe that the differences between women and men are a wonderful enrichment rather than something to overcome. The question is not which is the better choice; the question is how can we achieve a genuine partnership where the wisdom of both women and men can come together and contribute to better decision-making.I do not believe this is a utopian dream; I rather think it is an eventually inevitable process of societal evolution. To enter this process and to avoid ending up as victims of "creative destruction", a very masculine expression that Schumpeter coined some 60 years ago, organizations will have to adopt a different culture, and this new culture will benefit women and men, as well as the quality of our decision-making in general.The most important driver of this cultural change will be a significant increase in the number of women in senior management and C-level positions.I’m looking forward to it!Serge

  3. A very interesting post, its great to see someone realizing the specific dilemmas that are related to females in the "corner office", having been there and adding to that being stereotyped as the Young Female Group Controller was challenging, I had been through a tough lesson in assertiveness prior to that and I was coached through realizing that its not an either/or aggressive/passive demeanor, a lesson that came in handy, while I acted consistently and with groundedness… people I worked with converted to trust and appreciation.

  4. You have posted a great question. Not only in business but also in education, there are arguments if we do need to separat women/girls and men/boys in different developing programs. So far I think this argument will keep going for some time. Somehow women are a bit indifferent to women programs because they want to be seen as capable human beings regardless their gender. My perspectives are as following:1. To know about the SELF. women need to respect who they are and what traits/strengths they have. No matter what appraoch we are using to promote women and expand their impact on the business world, it is fundamental to know about the SELF before taking the action.2. To act. Based on your personal traits/preferrence, etc, you could actually choose approaches on your own. I would encourage women to make their own decisions whether they adapt themselves or they lead the change. Of course, to help women discove themselves, we need the understanding of men and changes in the organizational culture/regulations (e.g., performance evaluation). In short, we need a diverse environment which allows women to grow and prosper.

  5. You have mentioned most frequest obstacles for women’s advancement. Why do women have less confidence and negotiating skills? How do these obstacles relate to one’s achievement and promotion?If you ask successful women, how do they oversome such barriers? How do they lead? Is there special female leaderhip style?These are just questions i am quite interested in.

  6. In the long run women in high business boards tend to show more interest in almost any subject over men. I think can add that to your article.I have been running a casino for many years and this definitely gave me an edge on my male competitors.Monica

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