Did you ever have to enter an unknown culture for your work? Did it make you uneasy? Did you prepare? Did you read up on the geography, language, rituals, and nuances so that you would be successful?
What does this have to do with opposite genders working together? As noted in my book, For Women Only: What You Need to Know about How Men Think at Work, working with men is very similar to entering a foreign culture. In my years of working as a financial analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, my primary responsibility was investigating and analyzing the Japanese financial meltdown. I soon learned that doing business with Japanese has its own set of rules and rituals that I did not know. For example, I casually handed out and accepted business cards with little regard for the writing on them. A co-worker finally took me aside, and to my horror, explained that I was being perceived as rude and arrogant because I did not follow the Japanese ritual of the “Presentation of the business cards”. My lack of cultural knowledge caused misperceptions of my intent.
Let’s look at some variables that differ between cultures:
1. Communication – Even in cultures that use the same words, meanings can be dramatically different. Take words like “personal” and “business”. The meaning of those words can be dramatically different between genders. To men, these words are mutually exclusive – if it is a hallmark of the personal world, it should not be evident in the business world — while women often incorporate the two into one activity or emotion.
2. Emotions – Some cultures are known for being “passionate” (read: emotional), while in other cultures it is not considered appropriate to demonstrate emotion in public. Men in the workplace equate emotion with Personal world, and remember, Personal and Business are mutually exclusive. Therefore, as we learned in grammar school math, A=B, but B does not equal C, therefore A does not equal C. In a man’s mind, the visible presence of most negative emotions indicates “personal” feelings are in play — which, they think, don’t belong at work, and are an indicator that business-like logic has gone out the window.
3. Reference to Time – Some cultures, or even certain sub-cultures like specific industries, define a workday as a contiguous 8 hours beginning in the early morning, or beginning in the late afternoon. Some cultures break the workday into segments, allowing for a mid-day break, or “siesta”. The Male culture defines the workday as “whatever it takes”, and the unwritten rule is that a team member who is not present during the entire ordeal (however long it takes) is not a team player and is less committed to the organization.
Just as speaking louder in English will not help you in a country where English is not understood, neither will speaking louder in “Female” help you be understood by the “Male” culture. Learning more about the vocabulary, gestures, rituals, and values will give you knowledge to navigate the “Male” culture in the workplace. And just as you don’t change who you are when you enter a foreign culture, you will be most successful when you bring your unique talents into this culture, applying knowledge that will maximize your effectiveness.