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.