Therese Huston of the New York Times writes that “history has long labeled women as unreliable and hysterical because of their hormones.” Interestingly, new research shows that men’s hormones fluctuate, too, both naturally and artificially, with possibly dire consequences for the rest of us. Prescriptions for testosterone supplements, often for a condition called “low-T,” are heavily advertised on television and social media and have increased from 1.3 million to 2.3 million in just four years. As Huston notes, the availability and popularity of these supplements makes new research on testosterone possible. She reports the following findings:
Exciting new research reported in the New York Times from Columbia University and the University of Texas provides much needed evidence that racial and ethnic diversity on teams improves performance. While I have always felt the truth of this finding from my own experiences, it is good to see empirical evidence that supports the practice of inclusion. This new research, added to other studies showing that gender diversity also improves performance, should encourage more intentional inclusion of race and gender diversity on teams and in classrooms.
When we can understand ourselves and connect across differences with other women, we release energy for creativity and innovation in the workplace. The practices below will help you gain comfort and skill for developing these relationships.
- Identify the sides on your prism that are most relevant for you at this time in your life and career, keeping gender in the center. For example, I might ask myself how being a Jewish woman, white woman, US-born woman, and woman in my sixties are all currently impacting my experience. What is important for others to know about me as I turn the prism that reflects my wholeness?
One way to move toward understanding our differences as women is to engage in joint projects between affinity groups in the organization.
Sometimes affinity groups formally exist in organizations, such as one for women managers, one for African Americans, one for Asian Americans, one for Latinos, one for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) employees, and others. However, these groups may not see the other groups as having the same interests or goals. It can be helpful if affinity groups can define joint projects, even if their scopes are small, to open the possibility of building trust and taking on larger projects later.
One way to move toward understanding our differences as women is to meet in all-woman retreats for awareness-raising workshops.
After the initial all-woman retreats to gain an awareness of systemic gender dynamics and develop a shared vision and code of conduct (see chapter 6), a next level of all-woman retreats, possibly in smaller, mixed groups, can be held to explore and share differences and identify some common goals for working together to change the organization. These conversations work best, at least initially, when guided by a professional facilitator who is experienced at communicating across differences. The facilitator may structure exchanges between various groups that include
topics such as
Are you clueless about the ways differences shape the perspectives of your coworkers? Author Tom Finn reminds us that while many differences are visible, many are not, and our ability to connect with and support each other may depend on understanding the histories we carry into the workplace, often generationally. For example, I am white and a secular Jew. While I do not practice the religion, being Jewish is an important identity in my prism. I carry with me a history of my own painful experiences of anti-Semitism from my childhood in Kansas. I also carry with me the images of the holocaust in Europe that my parents made sure I saw while I was growing up so that I would never forget what happened to Jews. This combination of events that happened before I was born and during my own childhood means that, even now, I always scan my environment to see who else might be Jewish so that I know whom I can feel safe with. Because I do not “look Jewish” or have a recognizably Jewish name, I can take a long time to reveal this side of my identity to new people until I get a sense of their attitudes and degree of cluelessness. I have gotten feedback from coworkers that I can seem standoffish when people first meet me. They cannot see this invisible difference that is part of what makes me tick.
Skills and knowledge are the building blocks for preventing damage to relationships and to your career. The steps below will help prepare you for both.
- Practice feedback skills as much as you can. As with any skills, they get easier with practice. You can practice giving positive feedback to family members, friends, or coworkers so that you are ready to give negative feedback when the need arises. Be sure to include all the important elements of effective feedback: specific behavior, reaction (thoughts), and feelings. Each component gives a different type of information about the impact of a person’s behavior, and they are all important.
When you feel you are or may be experiencing career aggression, this is not the time to focus on strengthening relationships—remember, you may not know who is trying to damage your career, and if you do know who it is, you may not have a relationship with the person to begin with, as previously described. Your goal, now, needs to be to stop the damaging behavior and to protect your reputation and your career. To achieve these goals, you must be very cautious and thorough in the steps you take as soon as you suspect that someone is trying to damage your career. Keep the circle of people whom you talk to about what is happening very small so that the aggressor does not realize you are preparing to take action. You need to be the one who comes forward first. Here are five suggested steps to take:
One more situation to consider is when you perceive that indirect aggression has occurred but the offending party is not willing or able to engage with you directly about it. The goal is still to try to maintain a connection with that person. What you can do in this situation is to identify any projections that could be involved, using the Mother-Sister-Daughter triangle.
Remember—we are dealing with very old, deeply buried patterns of behavior, and some of these behaviors will thoughtlessly pop out of us sometimes, even when we have made a commitment to stop. For this reason, we all need to be open to feedback about our actions. Hopefully, every woman you work with is open as well. Sometimes, however, someone may not be at a time in her life, or at a moment in her day, when she is able to be open to feedback about something she has done. We will consider actions to take both when the person is open and when she is not open to working on her relationship with you in the face of your experience of indirect aggression.