gender related management training

A case for gender related management training

Let’s stop being trapped by political correctness. Do men and women need gender related management training? I think so

This post was originally written as a guest post for Tanveer Naseer, a business coach who works with small businesses and entrepreneurs to develop new strategies for growth and development

A number of spin off issues came from my recent research on bullying by women in the workplace – but several were particularly interesting.

Workplace Mars and Venus

One of them was that both men and women alike, shared the need for management and organisational training with a specifically gender related thread. A sort of Mars / Venus for work place skills. This wasn’t specifically just about sexual harassment, but basic communication, conflict resolution and managing expectations. This flies in the face of the common corporate gender-neutral, one-size-fits all management training, that exists in most organisations today.

Jane Gunn, The Corporate Peacemaker author of the book “How to Beat Bedlam in the Boardroom And Boredom in the Bedroom suggests that “ difference is the starting point for adding or creating value. What is needed most is to understand the value that each gender brings to the workplace and how each gender can learn from, rather than feel threatened by, the other”.

Differences are not negative. They’re just different.

Shouldn’t we just be acknowledging the existence of gender differences and recognise that we all need training on how to deal with them, rather than assuming as we do now, that we can all slip into business (gender) neutral on our own.

Or worse, assume that the traditional training methods found most successfully in male dominated environments work one hundred percent across the board, when all evidence indicates to the contrary. This is amusingly and somewhat extremely illustrated by a bemused Professor Higgins in the song , A Hymn to Him, when gender differences were clearly not perceived as positive!

Historical perspective

It would seem from the people who contacted me at least, that there are indeed issues in all gender combinations in the work place, except almost predictably, in male dominated environments (men managing and being managed by men). This actually shouldn’t surprise me. Men have had centuries of experience. Outside a domestic situation, all male teams and organisations were historically and culturally the norm: military, sports, male clubs, politics etc, where clearly defined structured hierarchies were in place and communication lines were usually prescribed and evident.

In a historical perspective, it was only comparatively recently that women have either been included or allowed full access to most business environments. So it’s hardly surprising that no one is used to dealing with women in these situations. And as they join the corporate world in ever increasing numbers, equally women are not used to dealing with each other either! There simply is very little historical precedent to call upon. In brief, men and women lack practise in dealing with each other at work which is intensified as women climb the career ladder and assume positions of responsibility .

Blurred expectations

So when I think about it, it’s almost to be expected that there should be some blurring of both expectations and behaviour within organisations. Perhaps the real surprise should be that any of it comes right at all, given this real lack of experience in the overall scheme of things.

Both men and women enter the workplace with their academic and professional qualifications and experience, but also with engrained behaviour patterns and expectations derived from their separate chromosomes, cultural socialisation, personality types and relationship role models developed in lives and interaction outside a work situation.

Many women claimed that men needed special training relating to them in a business neutral way, believing that men are used to dealing with women as mothers, sisters, partners, daughters and less often as business peers and even less frequently as superiors. But conversely the same was said by the men about women!  Jane Gunn also amplifies “Almost every instance of conflict or dispute at work is the catalyst for, or is mirrored by, conflict at home. In the same way relationships at home have a dramatic impact on our ability to create a productive and harmonious work life.”

Real issues

The real issue is perhaps how do we all let go our socialized gender stereotypical behaviour and communicate in a business neutral way when we enter organisational life, when they can be so removed for many from the roles we play in other areas of our daily lives? The answer seems to be with difficulty. Every indication would also suggest that support in coping with this dichotomy would be useful. But recognising differences doesn’t mean unequal treatment as it once did.

Other differences

Much is written about dealing with other types of differences in an organisational setting: cross cultural, personality (extrovert vs introvert) high achievers for example. So why is it now de rigeur, or worse still, politically incorrect, to acknowledge that gender differences require special attention in an organisational context?


Ashanti A, Change Manager in the Hi-Tech sector in Los Angeles, shared this ” As a female manager the biggest challenge in managing men is gaining the same respect and willingness to be a direct report that would be given to a male manager. As basic as it sounds – by nature no man wants to be told what to do by a woman ”

Ashanti also suggests that women need to be mindful not to fall into the “subordinate female co- worker role”. So women instinctively pour coffee, arrange parties, bring cakes and act as the “carer / facilitator/plactor” Ashanti elaborates. “Oftentimes because these statements aren’t aggressive or sexual in nature, they’re not deemed offensive or inappropriate- yet I would argue the latter

For me, as women enter organisational life in greater numbers than ever before, there is a clear need for a reveiw of current training practises to make them more inclusive. Gender related management training is needed more than ever so that women can thrive in male coded environments. Historically, we have been inclined to “fix” women as some pundits generalise, but the real problem that needs fixing is the workplace. This means that men have also to have training and understanding around their position or privilege and the biases that are embedded in our workplace cultures.

What do you think?

Selected by Wally Bock for Top Independent Business Blogs ” Dorothy Dalton is one of the best writers on the web when it comes to raising and analyzing gender issues in the workplace. Don’t read this post to find an answer. Read it to gather ideas for the answer you will develop for yourself“.

10 thoughts on “A case for gender related management training

  1. Lee4 Carey

    At the very basic level we exchange goods and services via business
    We create artificial structures to increase capabilities.
    At the basic level, my food, energy, micro wave, car and house can be delivered without regard to the gender mix of the provider. My acceptance and loyalty are not governed by the organizational makeup, but my personal interaction with the company.
    Male or female, the company will be managed by people who do or do not recognize, I the consumer will make or break them.
    The lessons of commerce are no different for women than men.
    A male opinion.

  2. Dorothy Dalton

    Hi Lee – thanks for your comment. I agree there are many instances where as consumers we just want delivery of a product or service and in most cases the gender of the provider has no bearing on the quality of either.

    It’s possibly what goes on behind the scenes that I’m talking about, the process that gets that product or service to the market place I am referring to. My point is that acknowledgemet of gender differences will improve that process, not detract from it and therefore the consumer should be better off.

  3. Olivia

    Hi Dorothy – I couldn’t agree more with all the points you have raised.

    Despite all the publicity, there is a great deal of confusion on how women should behave in the workplace , not just with each other, but in relation to men in the office. The rules for the way men treat women are clearer because of sexual harassment policies, but as your contributor says more blurred when other relationship dynamics kick in. My observation also is that they don’t like being managed by women particularly in the medium and lower levels.

    With so few women in senior roles to emulate (or even trust!) it’s not easy to negotiate all the minefields. In my 30 years in the workplace 2 heads of department have been women. One was the worst I have ever had in my life, but the other was the best.

    Interestingly she combined the best of male and female qualities and management styles.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Thanks Olivia for your comment. That has been a clear message from my research that the best leaders exhibit leadership styles that draw upon behaviour patterns that are pervcived as being both traditioanlly typically
      male and female. The question is training people to be aware of and embraces these differences and incorporate them into their management training programmes!

  4. Susan Mazza

    Given that our belief systems drive our behaviors often unconsciously I think it is important that any management training has us observe our belief systems.

    So I am wondering if it is that we need gender specific training or whether our training needs to address the impact of gender on our beliefs and the resulting expectations and behavior and skills.

    I would agree with Lee that the lessons of commerce are the same for women and for men. But to learn those lessons and succeed in the marketplace requires that we actually change how we think and how we work together from within the company walls. To that end how can we possibly ignore the impact of our gender based biases, tendencies and beliefs on our thinking, behavior and skills?

    I do think we need to train for the skills needed to succeed and find better ways to target who needs what, but I am not convinced we should use gender differences to define separate training tracks.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Susan – thanks for your insightful comment. I think it’s important to recognise that there are gender differences and they can’t be left in the car park or at home before we go into the office. Just exploring basics such as differences in communication styles would be a huge step forward. For me what you call it doesn’t matter as long as the issues get addressed.

  5. Wally Bock

    As always, you raise interesting and provocative points, Dorothy. Here are a couple of things I thought about while reading your post.

    In other posts you’ve raised the issue of how women negotiate for salary. It’s an example of a gender-specific issue. Those issues should probably be addressed in some separate training, where one goal is to create a “safe” place for discussion.

    I’d prefer a both/and solution. I think that separate training for specific issues is a good thing, but it may be a good idea to have other training together.

    And I think we have to think beyond training to support on the job. Training is short, temporary and artificial. The real application, evaluation, learning, and improvement will come on the job. There, I think, a mix of peer support and mentors would benefit everyone.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Wally – thanks for your input. I agree. Of course women and men should not be totally hived off from each other for development purposes into workplace training convents/monastries. I would simply like to see the introduction of training threads that are gender related. They can be delivered to men and women simultanously -I don’t think it matters. It’s about the message. It’s OK to be different, to receive an understanding of those differences and the impact those differences have on any organisation!

      Many of the situations that both men and women complain about in equal measure can be solved by this type of change in training and development programmes, including mentoring. I agree that supervision and feedback on a regular basis are also key.

      I have just spend a long week with some young women in the early stages of their careers ( 2-5 years in the workplace) and to my horror what was commonplace in my day, as also testified by my commentators, still exists. So legislation has dealt with some of the framework – but not the body. That’s what I believe needs addressing now.

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