Professional Advancement and Gender Stereotypes: The “Rules” for Better Gender Communications
In business and the professions it has now become commonplace to note that gender stereotypes powerfully affect women’s career advancement and often lead men and women to “talk past one another.” But the critical need to confront these stereotypes and find ways to help women to talk to — rather than past – men did not become clear to me until I served on my law firm’s Compensation Committee more than
10 years ago.
One of my responsibilities each year was to review several hundred self-evaluations written by my partners. Almost immediately, I was struck by how differently men and the women talked about themselves. There were such fundamental differences in the content and tone of the self-evaluations that I started to play a game: without looking at the partner’s name, I would write down whether I thought the self- evaluation was written by a man or a woman. I was never wrong. Another of my responsibilities was to review our senior lawyers’ performance evaluations of our junior lawyers. Again, I was struck by how differently senior male lawyers described the performance of the men and women who had worked for them.
My experiences on our Compensation Committee left me with no doubt that the advancement of professional women was being negatively affected by largely subconscious gender stereotypes and the communication differences that play into them. Since that time, I have been working to help women better navigate the rocks and shoals of career advancement created by these stereotypes. By and large I believe women can do this by mastering a few simple rules for gender communications. With that objective in mind, I have given dozens of speeches, webcasts, workshops and other presentations (mostly, but not exclusively, to women); I wrote an article entitled “Bragging Rights: Self-Evaluation Dos and Don’ts”; I put together a practical list of “Self-Evaluation Dos and Don’ts,” which has gone through multiple iterations; and I have edited close to 1,000 self-evaluations for female friends, colleagues, and strangers across North America. In what follows, I summarize my recommendations for professional women, lawyers, and others, about how they should think about gender stereotypes and the “rules” they need to follow to level the playing field in what I refer to as the “gender communication game.”
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