Does gender make the manager?

ALL generalisations are subject to exceptions. And none more so than the one about the great difference between the way men and women run things.

Even so, companies are starting to make the most of the differences they do find. The most forward-looking acknowledge that it makes good business sense to have a labour force that mirrors the customer base as well as to make the most of all the potential of people in the labour pool.

Nevertheless, the Institute of Management reported last week that the proportion of women managers fell last year - for the first time in two decades - from 10.2 per cent to 9.5 per cent. Though some suggest this is because many women have set up on their own, the suspicion remains that they have been the victims of tougher policies as companies grapple with the recession.

Here, Cristina Stuart, managing director of SpeakEasy Training, a consultancy that runs courses on men and women working together, describes a few key differences between the sexes in the workplace that she has found.

Working Together. The male approach to business is competitive, direct and confrontational. The end justifies the means. Personal status and a focus on the individual are important.

The female method is collaborative. Collective action and responsibility assume greater importance than personal achievement. Lateral thinking is important, as well as goodwill and the wellbeing of the individual.

Tackling problems. The male approach is to go for the heart of the problem, stripping away secondary considerations. The female preference is to assemble options.

Body language. Male body language tends to be challenging. The female inclination is towards self-protection. A woman conforming to this female stereotype might appear prim, with legs crossed. The stereotypical male might sit with legs splayed apart. This gives an impression of being in control.

Where it is male behaviour to repeat a point forcefully, perhaps jabbing a finger or banging desk for effect, the female style avoids overtly aggressive gestures. A woman who does not back down may be considered hostile by either sex.

The male physical threat is backed by a stronger, louder voice. Women are likely to back down in a shouting match, both through inclination and the fact that their comments are likely to be drowned out. Should they attempt to compete, they may well be judged shrill and deemed hysterical.

Language. The male way of speaking does not encourage discussion. Points are often put with an air of finality. Women incline towards more discursive techniques. When presenting an idea, contributions are welcomed and often invited.

Conversation. Men like to recount personal experiences and achievements, or discuss 'masculine' subjects, such as cars or sport. Women are more likely to focus on staff problems and personal matters. They analyse and internalise, while men may merely observe.

Meetings. Unless a woman adopts the male confrontational manner, she is likely to find it difficult to have her voice heard and make her opionions stick. Women are often ignored at meetings through having a less insistent presence.

Self-promotion. Men have a natural bent for communicating achievement. Women are more likely to share or pass on the credit for a success. In cultures where assessment is largely based on visible individual achievement, men are at a natural advantage.

Humour. A man's joke usually has a butt or victim, while female humour is less barbed. A woman often jokes against herself.

Caveat. Many men have a 'female' style of working. Equally, many women have a 'male' approach. Thus each sex can have or adopt the other gender's way of working.

Indeed, as Ms Stuart says, many of the current management theorems - flatter organisations, empowerment, managing by consensus - have a 'female style' to them.

(Photograph omitted)

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