Regardless of your answer, you’ll want to come across as gender-savvy at work. That’s where we come in.
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Think men are from Mars and women are from Venus, even in the office?
Or do you think both sexes approach their jobs, including management jobs, the same way, and any differences have to do with their skill set, not their biological sex?
Whether differences between the sexes are real, perceived or rooted in personal biases, bring up the subject of whether working for a female boss is different than working for a male boss and you’re guaranteed a spirited debate among your friends.
So what does it matter who you’re working for? Maybe nothing. But plenty of studies say sex and gender can affect how a boss or coworker makes choices and interacts with employees. That means learning about biological and sociological differences might help you get along better with everyone—which could make you known as an adaptable employee.
At the same time, demonstrating that you’re adept to 2013’s gender roles instead of 1953’s (you know, like never making a snarky comment about the female boss having a male secretary) will make you look professional.
Here are four ways to make sure you’re being gender-savvy at work:
1. When making small talk, try not to revert to gender stereotypes
Yes, the majority of men like sports. And sure, plenty of women like to cook and bake. But if your female boss is huge Red Sox fan, don’t ask her what she plans to prepare for the July Fourth picnic potluck; talk boys of summer and batting averages instead. Once you know a boss’s favorite team, keep an eye on sports websites so you have something to say.
2. Use each sex’s communication style to your advantage
Lots of studies recently have highlighted the different ways men and women communicate. Whether or not you agree, reading more about these theories will help build your skill arsenal.
Sophie Hahn and Anne Litwin published a great article that listed gender perceptions at the workplace. Among those they highlighted were that women are more intuitive when it comes to problem solving (trusting instincts first), and men are more linear (will not trust intuition until proof is presented). When there’s conflict at work, women seek to create harmony, whereas men accept conflict as normal.
Do those theories sound familiar to you? If so, how can you use that knowledge to be more a more valuable and helpful worker?
3. Be accommodating and polite when a new baby arrives
If your boss is pregnant, be kind and supportive during the pregnancy, and make sure you don’t say anything that suggests her maternity leave is a vacation or time off. When she returns, ask how the family is doing. Do the same for a man returning from a paternity leave.
The key is to appear thoughtful and helpful—but never nosy.
Don’t ever ask someone with twins whether they used fertility drugs. Don’t ask for details about an adopted child’s “background.” If the new baby is joining a family with two mommies or two daddies, don’t ask “which one of you contributed the…”
You’d think it wouldn’t be necessary to list these don’ts, but amazingly, people say this stuff all the time. All you ever need to say to a boss or colleague is, “Congratulations! How wonderful for your family.”
4. Watch out for assumptions of abilities
Have you seen someone make this mistake before: “Wow, Susan, I never would have guessed you knew code, because … uh …”?
Sure, statistically speaking, women are less likely to be computer programmers. But needless to say, making assumptions about abilities won’t win you any love in the office.