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Haven’t Things Changed in Gender Relationships?

It is vital for both sexes to understand each other.

Of course things have changed. But have we arrived? No. Listen to the watercooler talk and pick up the newspaper. Old attitudes are pretty firmly entrenched and still lurking in the hallway and evident in the Monday morning staff meeting. Some attitudes are subtle and others not so subtle.

Often people assume that with close to four decades of women having entered the workforce, we’ve arrived. Haven’t we given enough attention to this gender problem at work? Aren’t we beating a dead horse?

Bill, a manager at a factory location of Lucent Technologies, recently suggested, “When I began here as an engineer thirty-five years ago, there wasn’t a single woman in my department. Now a woman heads it. Women are everywhere. Things have changed!”

You have to admit that he has a point. Twenty years ago, it was easier to identify inequities between men and women because there were far fewer females in the workplace, especially in senior positions. Overtly, it seems as if we’ve altered our actions to meet the new requirements of corporate America, which often has zero tolerance toward any communication inequities, such as ignoring women, hoarding power and information, or excluding them from networks.

But Bill mistakenly equates the larger number of women holding jobs with equitable treatment. Just because there are more professional and working women doesn’t yet mean that they have arrived, or that attitudes toward them have changed. Men still dominate senior executive and CEO positions of Fortune 500 companies, and they still make more money than women, even for the same jobs.

Although outwardly we all know how to behave, internally certain mind-sets still prevail at work. Occasionally that inner, unspoken perception that affects women reveals itself in a spontaneous remark or gesture. Attitudes drive behavior, and attitudes are not all that plastic or flexible. In spite of everything, they’re tough to change.

Finally, there is a great debate on who is doing the most changing. Men complain that they have had to make adjustments because now they are in “mixed” company. It cramps their style. Women complain that they have had to change to meet the male standard of behavior in the workplace. Men set the rules and women must follow them. Actually, it is vital for both sexes to understand each other. Both will benefit from the knowledge of gender communication style differences and how they affect the way the sexes are perceived. And remember, most men and women have goodwill toward each other. They are just lacking knowledge. Intent is not enough, and impact is the bottom line and the measure of successful communication.

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