These differences are an asset to the operation and, when men and women have the opportunity for equal contribution, the business is more successful. Results show gender-diverse groups (or teams) are more productive and generate higher profits than single-gender groups or teams. When the male-female ratio is more balanced, the group produces more sustainable and predictable results than those groups that are unbalanced.

However, when it comes to the world of work, men and women are often like chalk and cheese. They live in different worlds and have different ways (rules) of working and interacting. Each gender has its own way of communicating, solving problems and even presenting ideas. Unfortunately, these differences often cause confusion and frustration among the very people who need to be working together.

Their interactions are often challenging because there is a lack of awareness and understanding of the unwritten gender rules at play. In fact, most people aren’t even aware their own gender has rules; they’re just doing what they know to do. The real problems start when co-workers judge each other using the rules of their own gender and then misinterpret what the other person is actually intending.

How do these differences show up in the workplace?

Approach to the world – hierarchy or networks

Men and women approach the world in fundamentally different ways, which can be observed as early as childhood. Boys tend to engage in activities such as hockey, basketball, Pokémon and superheroes. These activities involve a power hierarchy such as coach, captains, team players or winners and losers. On the other hand, girls grow up engaged in activities such as playing dolls, skipping, tea parties and crafts, where power is shared equally, and the focus is on relationships and connections. There is no head player, winners or losers.


As they grow into adulthood, men continue to see the world in hierarchies, and every interaction either puts them one up or one down in the pecking order. When in conversation, they will try to maintain the upper hand and protect themselves from others’ attempts to put them down. Men see life as a contest and will work to preserve their independence and avoid failure. In a hierarchy, the goal is status, and the style is command and control. This style works well in a crisis and when there is little variation in how things can or should be done.

Women view the world as a flat structure consisting of a network of connections where everyone is equal, has a voice, and ideas from others are welcomed. They see life as a community and will protect themselves against isolation and others pushing them away. For women, conversations are negotiations for closeness in which they gain confirmation and reach consensus. Their style is much more participatory, which is particularly good for creative tasks, innovative approaches and where two heads are better than one.

Problem solving

Men are goal-oriented and are motivated by accomplishment and results. As soon as one goal is achieved, they work towards another. Men will resist being influenced, particularly in public, and like to solve their problems on their own. They will think through their options independently before coming to any conclusions. It’s no surprise, then, men like to be the ones with the answers.

Women are more process-oriented and are driven by the process of strategizing how to get to the end goal. They will gather research, data and information from a variety of places before proposing a solution. Because women view the world as a network, they see no risk to their status in asking others for their input. Rather, they see it as a natural and engaging part of the process.

Verbal communication

In the female culture, where everyone is considered equal, giving orders or speaking in a forceful tone often alienates others. As a result, when women speak and present ideas, they will often use phrases or pose questions that include disclaimers or hedges such as “This may be a crazy idea,” or “Maybe we should try it this way.” Men will often perceive this style as lacking confidence, not understanding it’s really an attempt to get to the best solution possible without offending others.

Men often speak in a declamatory voice “We should do this,” or “This is the best approach.” Their language gives the impression they are more confident, and their ideas are correct, even if they don’t know any more than their female colleagues. As a result, women often perceive men are closed-minded and are reluctant to bring forward their own suggestions, even if they are better. Then everyone loses out.

In meetings

From the boardroom to the kitchen table, meetings may be the best place to watch gender differences in action. In meetings, men speak at length, and women speak briefly. Men will present their ideas and speak at length to show you how passionate they are about them. Men will also interrupt and talk on top of each other. Conversely, women will speak briefly and unconsciously share their “speaking” time equally with others in the meeting. The challenge is: Women see their male colleagues as grandstanding and dominating the meeting. Men see women as not caring enough about their ideas when, in fact, they were just being considerate of others.

Understanding not changing

How women and men think and act in the world of work is intrinsically different. Their behaviours are rooted in both nature and nurture. Regardless of the situation, there are always exceptions to the gender rules, and most people are capable of adapting their behaviour if they desire. It’s not about trying to change anyone or having one gender bow to the other. Women shouldn’t have to compromise who they are or hide their voices to be successful. Men shouldn’t be afraid to accept and listen to others. Being open in no way diminishes who they are.

It comes down to understanding and accepting why men and women do what they do. Successful businesses of the future will be those that embrace diversity, including gender differences. Balancing input from both male and female perspectives has been proven to drive better business results, so why would you do anything else?  end mark

Mindshift is a workplace communication consultancy in Toronto, Ontario. Visit mindshifting for more information.

Sherry Waddingham