Acting Like a Man?

Recently I’ve had a couple of encounters at work that made me realize, once again, the different expectations we bring to bear when dealing with women and men. For obvious reasons, I don’t want to go into details in a public space. I also want to acknowledge that I made mistakes in both cases as well — in one case by not making a phone call when I should have and in the other, by not doing enough to make someone feel appreciated (although honestly, I’m not sure I could have in this situation, but I do admit that it’s a weakness that I need to continue to work on strengthening).

However, it strikes me in both cases that the real underlying problem was that I treated relationships that the other parties viewed as personal as business relationships — that I brought a “let’s get this job done and if we’re not, let’s rethink this particular relationship and move on” mentality to these situations. It also seems to me that that is what has allowed things to get to the point where we can’t keep a cordial relationship, despite my attempts to apologize. Most importantly, I think that if I were a man, this more “business-like” attitude would have been accepted, that what’s really going on here is that folks brought gendered expectations to bear on our relationship and when I didn’t fulfill those, were disappointed. I am not trying to say that one can have business relationships without building personal relationships as well — but I do think that people bring different expectations as to how women and men will foster those personal relationships — and that women (men, too, but this hits women harder) are punished when they fail to live up to those expectations.

So, readers, here’s my question for you: what do you do in such situations? Do you try to change your behavior to fit the expectations people have for women? Do you try to talk to people about it? Do you just say “c’est la vie” and let it go? And finally, do you think this is true? Do people expect different things from women when it comes to building relationships in the workplace? Do they expect women to provide more personal interactions and support than they do from men? Share your thoughts in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Acting Like a Man?

  1. So, readers, here’s my question for you: what do you do in such situations? Do you try to change your behavior to fit the expectations people have for women?
    – I really struggle with this one. I often hear that my confidence makes me come across as a ‘know-it-all’ or arrogant. I hadn’t considered if it would be thought of the same way coming from a man. My guess is that it would be taken better from a man. Hmph! Every time I come to this struggle I wind up with the same conclusion. I am NOT willing to change who I am in a fundamental way. I will work on the delivery, but not on holding back or seeming more demure.

    Do you try to talk to people about it?
    – Depends. How valuable is the relationship? How much damage has been done? Do I have the required energy and what would be the return on my investment of time and energy.

    Do you just say “c’est la vie” and let it go?
    – Yep, I’ve done that!

    And finally, do you think this is true? Do people expect different things from women when it comes to building relationships in the workplace?
    – I think this is very true on most occasions. This is one of the reasons I’m happy to have such great mentors and women to discuss the issues with (say, like you!).

    Do they expect women to provide more personal interactions and support than they do from men?
    – I don’t know that this is consciously expected, but I know that if it isn’t provided the ‘B’ word gets used.

  2. There was an article not long ago somewhere (NYTimes?) about women negotiating for raises, for salaries when hired etc. that said much the same thing. One small part of the reason that women are paid less than men for the same work is that women are less likely to negotiate their salaries, and to ask for raises, than men. But when women do negotiate or make their accomplishments known to their “boss” they are commonly perceived in a negative light, while the same conduct from men is viewed positively. The suggestion in the article was that women should negotiate, should ask for raises but that they have to do so carefully (depending on their circumstances of course) so as not to be perceived negatively. I just hate that advice – be sweet and nice and feminine, and all will be yours. I recognize that we all, men and women, need to modify our behavior/attitudes to meet expectations to a certain degree, but it certainly falls much more on women than men.

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