Blog Post

Toward Gender Diversity: Men and Women are Equal, but not the Same

Dr. Tom Tonkin

Principal, Thought Leadership & Advisory Services

The gender diversity discussion continues. It also appears that everyone, men and women, want to solve the inequality problem. I sincerely believe that we do; however, before we can solve this problem, we must first must define the problem.

You see, I believe we have a fundamental, semantic problem that needs exposure before proceeding. Men and women are equal, but not the same.

Rethinking Our Conversations About Equality

The idea of 'sameness' suggests that two or more people (or things) are identical, while equality addresses the fact that two or more people (or things) are identical in quantity, size, degree, or value. In the case of gender equality, we are talking about men and women being identical in value. Yet, it is fair to say that men and women are not the same, identical. We certainly are not physically the same. We are not emotionally the same and many other areas. We are different, but we are equal in value.

In discussion, we often intermingle these two terms, equality and ’sameness’. When women hear men say that women are not the same, they most likely hear that they are not equal, therefore hearing that they are less valued. Men, on the other hand, hear from women that they want to be treated as equal, however, filtering that are 'the same'. The cycle goes on, over and over. We are not in synch with our language. To exacerbate the issue, women believe that they need to be 'the same' to compete with men. They start to behave in unnatural ways (un feminine or more masculine) to keep up with men. Some male leaders support this action as it is easier to deal with another person, male or female, that is similar to them. After all, we like to hang out with people that are the same as we are. Again, this sends out mixed signals to those that are trying to 'play the game'.

Gendered Differences in Networking

Specifically connecting this notion to that of networking, brings about a renewed discussion. Women and men will network differently (not the same), but can achieve an ’equal’ result. This is best measured based on an outcome and not process; based on results and not effort. If you have followed any of the networking gurus, you know that networking should be intentional, with purpose, to achieve a goal. If we connect our networking to a desired outcome, we will see that both men and women can achieve via different methods.

In a recent study that I personally conducted and is in the midst of being published, I uncovered ten essential dimensions to networking. This same study concluded that the outcome of these ten dimensions were not gender sensitive, however, the road to results did suggest gender differences. One of these dimensions was the level of diversity in one's network: The more diverse the network, the greater is its associated effectiveness to achieving the desired outcome. This diversity came in two flavors, demographic and professional. Demographic diversity suggests categories such as gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic factors, while professional diversity suggests categories such as vertical industry (i.e. Healthcare), levels (i.e. CEO), and tenure. One of the main reasons to network is to achieve greater levels of performance, whether for ourselves or that of the company. If that is the case, then let’s put this idea to the test.

For example, in another study that I conducted and published[1] found that a woman’s locus of control is statistically significantly lower than a man’s LOC. Specifically, women believe that they have less control over their circumstances than men. Given this premise, women tend to network in smaller groups and seek other women that have the same value systems as they do; however, men are shallower in their networking and see the practice of networking as a way of getting ahead and aren’t too concerned with matching value systems, therefore are more successful when networking in larger conferences.

Embracing Gender Diversity to Drive Innovation

One of the last bastions of competitive advantage is that of innovation. Everett Rogers, well known innovation expert and author of the seminal book, The Diffusion of Innovation, suggests that there are two essential and critical ingredients to successful innovation, diversity of thinking, and group communications. At face value, this appears to be a simple task, however, with further examination, we find this to be much more difficult to attain. The challenge here is that people that are diverse in thinking do not 'hang out' together since we, as humans, have a tendency to fraternize with people like ourselves. We tend to bond with those that are like ourselves and it’s that same bonding that gives us great group communications. Conversely, groups that are highly diverse are challenged to communicate by the simple reason that they are diverse, they have different value systems, backgrounds and aspirations. Bottom line, in general, diverse groups have poor communications and groups that communicate well have little diversity.

Many leaders, both male and female, are missing a tremendous opportunity for greater performance in their organizations, by not nurturing diversity. Leaders must embrace and encourage diversity by creating a platform and infrastructure to nurture and grow diversity. It’s fair to state that the first and most powerful area for diversification is that of gender diversity. Gender diversity starts with the understanding that men and women are equal in value, but not the same.

I look forward to your comments and interactions below. You may also connect with via LinkedIn or Twitter, @DrTomTonkin.

Looking to improve diversity, equity and inclusion and belonging in your workplace? Tune into Season 3 of HR Labs, where we’re having conversations with experts on the subject of DEIB in the workplace.

[1] Tonkin, T., (2013). The Effects of Locus of Control and Gender on Implicit Leadership Perception. International Leadership Association (ILA) Women and Leadership Affinity Group Inaugural Conference, 2013 Conference Proceedings Pacific Grove, CA

Related Resources

Want to keep learning? Explore our products, customer stories, and the latest industry insights.

Workplace Diversity: ’The Era of Colorblindness is Over’

Blog Post

Workplace Diversity: ’The Era of Colorblindness is Over’

Workplace diversity is a pressing topic among HR pros. It's heavily scrutinized in blogs, at conferences and during training sessions. That attention often focuses on how diversity affects the company — but what about how minorities' experiences affect people personally and professionally? Google employee Erica Baker addressed that question recently on Medium with a first-person account of her experiences as a minority in the tech industry. Here, Dr. Kecia Thomas, a professor of industrial-organizational psychology at the University of Georgia, explains how individual workers' experiences can reverberate throughout an organization: How do the experiences of minority workers affect the entire company? The concerns of under-represented workers often represent the concerns of other workers, as well. The issues that minority workers might experience are not all that different from the experiences of people who were the first generation to go to college in their families, or people who might come from a lower economic class. Attending to diversity actually helps to improve the workforce overall. Some of the challenges for ethnic minority workers, for example, are that they often find themselves as one-of-a-kind in their workplace. I’m talking about high-level professionals, people with graduate degrees and above. There are implicit biases that might hinder their access to informal networks, to mentoring or to professional development opportunities that could subsequently impair their performance and career development. I think there are also experiences that newcomers face in regard to feeling invisible and voiceless. How do these biases affect people in the majority? It’s not a stretch to say that the lack of exposure for many white colleagues can also be a source of anxiety that can inhibit their opportunity for authentic interactions with a new colleague who is different, ethnically or culturally. Any time we have those barriers to communication or to establishing authentic relationships, it’s a potential barrier to our performance and our ability to work together productively. Whose role is it to consider these issues within a company — and to take steps to address them? When it comes to any type of organizational change, it always begins at the top. Leaders have to understand demographic shifts in their labor force, how those shifts might be reflected — and the needs and priorities of their workers. When leaders are committed to a diverse and inclusive workplace, HR is empowered to put in place the strategies that are equally effective across a diversity of workers. There’s also a culture of the organization that has to be addressed to make sure that people are held accountable if they violate non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. Too often, companies don’t have clear policies, or they're not communicated effectively. And even if they’re communicated effectively, they’re not always followed. We are at a critical point as a nation in regard to how we address diversity. We are seeing a lot of blatant forms of discrimination and violence occur, but we’re also seeing a younger generation that is so multicultural and inclusive. We’re seeing an increasing number of states embrace same-sex marriage. So there’s kind of a tidal wave of issues going on that reflect our differences. We have an opportunity to do this well and see this as a way to promote innovation, creativity and greater collaboration. A lot of the research I’ve done with Vicky Plaut [professor of law and social science at the University of California, Berkeley] suggests that we need to embrace multiculturalism and that the era of colorblindness is over. In fact, colorblindness is a signal to members of ethnic and racial minority groups that they are now vulnerable to discrimination. Photo: Can Stock

Dear ReWorker: Handling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

Blog Post

Dear ReWorker: Handling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

Dear ReWorker, We recently had a sexual harassment complaint about an employee. Out of curiosity, I Googled this person and found several websites that list his name and include details about his inappropriate sexual activities and relationships. Aside from the internal complaint of sexual harassment in the workplace, the internet posts bother me very much. The situation certainly does not make the company look good and it tells me a lot about the employee's moral and ethical standards. Can I fire him for the complaint as well as what I found out on the Internet? Sincerely, Tempted to Terminate ___________________________________________________________________________________ Dear Tempted to Terminate, You are making this more difficult than it needs to be. If his offense at work was serious enough for termination, you fire him, regardless of his internet persona. It doesn't matter what he does outside of work or what he posts online—he misbehaved at work and should be punished. Now, this does become more complicated if his offense isn't necessarily fireable. Let's say someone complained that he made one dirty joke. That wouldn't (generally) be enough for a termination. If that's the case, here are a few other questions to consider. Is His Online Behavior Just Icky, or Is It Illegal? This is important because in some states or cities, you can't terminate someone for doing something controversial outside of work if it's legal. So, if you find his behavior objectionable but happen to live in one of these jurisdictions, you can't terminate him for that behavior. If you live outside these areas, employees don't have the right to do icky things and brag about them on the internet, even if it's outside of the workplace. There's no free speech in the workplace, and as long as his questionable behavior didn't include him starting a union, you can terminate him for outside activities. Are You Discriminating Based on Gender or Sexual Orientation? If a woman were saying the same things online as the employee in question, would you be okay with it? If your answer is yes, then you're discriminating illegally. If he were a different sexual orientation, would you be okay with it? If so, then you need to be extra cautious. The courts have reached mixed verdicts on whether you can legally discriminate against someone based on sexual orientation, but the reality is, even if your bias falls within the law, you shouldn't act on it. You should be judging people based on their work. Does the Behavior Reflect Badly on the Company? Assuming that his behavior at work wasn't serious enough for a termination, and assuming that it's not illegal to terminate him, should you still do it? Generally, managers should stay out of their employees' online lives. You wouldn't invite yourself over to dinner at their house, so why should you invite yourself onto their Facebook pages? With that said, you should take action if the employee's behavior reflects badly on the company. If there's nothing online linking him to your company, you should probably let it go. If it's easy to link him to your company, however, that's another story. Regardless of your decision you need to do two things: consult with your employment attorney and enforce the same standard across the board, regardless of age, gender, position or tenure. Your ReWorker, Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady Photo: Creative Commons

Why Starbucks' Unconscious Bias Training Probably Won't Change Much

Blog Post

Why Starbucks' Unconscious Bias Training Probably Won't Change Much

Starbucks made a splash recently by closing 8,000 stores to provide unconscious bias training for over 100,000 employees. The company decided on this widespread training after an employee stopped two black men from using their onsite restroom in a Philadelphia store. As a former Chief Learning Officer at multiple organizations, I don't think this training will change much. And, as a consultant, I can also guess what this training may have cost Starbucks. So why pay for something that likely won't stop this situation from happening in the future? The short answer is because it is easier to "train" people for a half day than to do the challenging work of creating an infrastructure of leadership and a culture of diversity and acceptance. The first of Starbucks' three stated values is "Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome." Sounds easy. After all, we all want to be welcoming to everyone, right? In practice, however, it's not that simple. As humans, we bring complexity, variability, and, sometimes, bias to the table whether we realize it or not, and four hours of training alone won't change that. To drive real change, organizations need leaders who understand their role in shaping behaviors, and it's up to these leaders to teach employees how to best represent the image of the organization in their work. Here are four practical ways leaders can shape culture and behavior on their teams: Don't Hide Behind the Scenes If you're a leader, your office is a great place to hole up and get work done, but that's not where the real leadership happens. The real work of an organization takes place where employees work—in front of customers, with the products. Being a leader means regularly listening, observing and, when appropriate, immediately intervening to acknowledge behavior that is exceptional, or reprimand behavior that must change. Make it part of your routine to be present and active, side-by-side with employees. Be Aware of the Situation Your presence alone isn't enough. Leaders must view the workplace and their employees through a critical lens—the values of the organization. That means being open to noticing, as in Starbucks' case, when that culture of belonging and warmth is violated. Using a values filter may not be second nature, particularly because this type of leadership is a time-consuming and all-encompassing work. It's critical for leaders to see beyond their point of view, embrace the organization's values and coach them, thereby shaping behaviors that represent the values. Match Worker Demographics to Customer Demographics Organizations are increasingly making an effort to hire a more diverse workforce, and there's a valid business reason for that—employees who share the culture and background of the customer base will be better able to meet the customer needs because they're more likely to have similar needs. An employee demographic that represents the customer demographic can also help ensure that products fit the culture of the local presence. Find Teachable Moments Leaders sometimes view coaching and feedback as something that's provided to employees only when they're doing something wrong. As a result, they are uncomfortable providing feedback regularly because they think it sends the wrong message to workers. But by adopting a teaching mentality, leaders can view feedback as a good thing—a learning or developmental opportunity rather than a corrective one. A mindset of continuous learning goes a long way for opening up a meaningful dialogue. Leaders who understand that shaping their culture is an ongoing process, and approach it from a long-term learning and engagement lens can generate excitement about their organization's value. And that excitement typically lasts a whole lot longer and is much more effective than a four hour training session. Photo: Unsplash

Schedule a personalized 1:1

Talk to a Cornerstone expert about how we can help with your organization’s unique people management needs.

© Cornerstone 2022
Legal