One of our first findings coming out of our gender diversity challenge was that men feel they have to be careful in the workplace.
It’s difficult to get men to talk about what it feels like to work with women. When I ask the men about their challenges, many close up – “There are no problems”, they say.
Men are very, very careful when they talk about women
Sometimes it takes a good 5 minutes of silence before anyone speaks up. They are concerned about being accused of not being politically correct. When they do start to talk, they say things like, “Don’t write this down” and “You can’t put it that way!” They are very concerned about having this conversation. It is uncomfortable for them.
For women, this alone should provide you with a huge insight into the male perspective on the gender issue. Most women are convinced that men aren’t interested in talking about the gender issue. Women think men are resisting. In fact, men are rather intimidated by the question.
There are 5 main challenges based on research that men have in dealing with women – some of these may make you bristle.
- 1: Men feel careful in the workplace
- 2: Male allies feel confused in the workplace
- 3: Men fear being accused of harassment
- 4: Men perceive reverse discrimination
- 5: Men feel blamed
Today we will tackle the first one:
Why men feel they have to be careful in the workplace
Many men feel they always have to be a little on guard with women. They don’t know how women will react in situations in which men’s reactions are predictable.
Time and again, men report that:
- They feel that women take things personally and over-react to things that they themselves would just shrug off.
- They worry about how to deliver negative feedback to female colleagues without offending them.
- They just don’t know where women are coming from.
- They fear women will think they are being condescending or discriminatory if they “take them under their wing”.
- They are afraid of women crying!
Women are always surprised to learn that men spend so much time thinking about these things and they are amazed at how afraid men are of making women cry.
The insight for women is – women aren’t happy to hear that men really do treat them cautiously but when men talk about how careful they feel they need to be around women, women typically see that what they thought was dismissive behaviour, is in fact, just hesitancy.
This is one of women’s first moments of realisations.
They realise that when men seem to be brushing them off, they are really just being careful and the reason they are being careful? They sincerely don’t know what the rules are. They don’t know how women will react to what they say and do, and they are afraid to offend or to be misunderstood.
So men often act in ways that make it possible to steer clear of problems, conflict and friction with women and just try to find ways of avoiding these things.
Women should understand that men’s caution is not intended, but that it really is a big challenge for them. They should let men know that there is no need to be cautious with them, and then should share their insights and show that they understand the way men feel.
The insight for men is that when they hesitate with women and try to avoid problems by skirting around issues, women feel like they are being dismissed and that is one of the reasons why women react negatively to the way men behave.
To solve this, men should try being as direct as possible with women, even to the point of telling them that they are afraid of their reactions. Women will welcome this approach. To them, it will resonate as honest and considerate. We as women can encourage men to do this.
Interesting – in our research with men, the thought of a woman crying in their office really terrified a number of them.
In our next article in the series we will tell you all about Challenge #2.
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