Friday, June 17, 2011

The Male Factor: The Unwritten Rules, Misperceptions, and Secret Beliefs of Men in the Workplace

The Male Factor: The Unwritten Rules, Misperceptions, and Secret Beliefs of Men in the WorkplaceThe Male Factor: The Unwritten Rules, Misperceptions, and Secret Beliefs of Men in the Workplace, by Shaunti Feldhahn
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Shaunti Feldhahn, who has a financial analyst background and holds a master's in public policy from Harvard, has become an expert on men's and women's unique perspectives. After writing several books about the inner lives of men and women, and a novel, she turned her focus to statistically analyzing men's perspectives in the workplace.

After finishing this book, I did some research on Goodreads and discovered that this book also has a "Christian" edition. Even though I'm actually a Christian, that would totally turn me off, so I'm glad I didn't check out that version. (Yes, I'm a weird Christian.) :)

Feldman and her large team of researchers interviewed 3,000 men in the workplace over 7 years and carefully analyzed the data. This book is the summary of what they discovered. In short:

It's not personal; it's business. Women tend to have a harder time separating these two worlds, and in general, men see a clear and distinct line. Feldhahn discusses the fact that men's brains are wired to compartmentalize, whereas women's brains have much more free flow. Therefore, it's much easier for men to separate themselves and their personal feelings from their jobs. They are less likely to take things personally, and they are less likely to discuss their personal lives in the workplace. They also work hard to protect themselves from emotional pain.

If men see women operating by personal world rules at work, they can be perceived as lacking self-confidence and self-esteem, being defensive and insecure, not being a team player, and not being mature, sophisticated, or business savvy.

I would have to agree that although certain men can be complete assholes in the work world, in general women are more likely to have personality conflicts. They are also more likely to overreact to things. This is probably because of the different brain wiring and what I've observed in my own sons: males tend to be better at moving on and not letting resentments linger. They are less likely to hold grudges.

Men are concerned that if they let down their guard, the world will stop spinning. According to Feldhahn, men have a secret belief that if they do not perform their best at work, or if they let down their guard, they will lose their jobs and be unable to provide for their families. This fear drives many of the decisions they make in the workplace. As a result, they can be intolerant of colleagues (often women, who are not as driven by this fear) who appear to be distracting them from the task at hand. This focus on results can be a highly positive thing, but it can also be negative because sometimes men do not realize the importance of relationship building in business. To gain respect from male colleagues, it's important for women to demonstrate that they are fully committed to the job and "in the game."

Feldhahn elaborates on the little things that drive men crazy about women in the workplace: the need to get to the point, not overreact, and let it go. Furthermore, men value colleagues who "suck it up" and get the job done, no matter what, without complaining. The downside of the typical man's approach is that he might not take the necessary time to delve into the details, which can bite him in the end.

She also addresses men's inner insecurity and how it can affect women. Men do not like to be challenged openly...especially by women. Part of this is due to sexism, but part of it is also due to a lack of self-confidence and the fact that men are trained to come across as more confident than they really feel inside. She found that most men like to be challenged, but they fear being seen as inadequate. "One of men's most intense emotional needs is to feel adequate and to know they are respected and trusted by others." Feldhahn addresses situations in which men are likely to perceive disrespect, including a direct, brusque approach, asking "why" questions, pushing too much, and conveying exasperation.

Feldhahn also tackles the taboo of addressing the way women dress in the workplace. According to her research, men feel extremely uncomfortable discussing this issue, but most of them agree that dressing provocatively (tight or short skirts, or showing cleavage) is one of the major ways that women shoot themselves in the foot in the workplace. The interesting thing she discovered is that men tend to think that the woman wants them to look at her body rather than pay attention to what she is saying or doing...while in fact, most women do not mean to send this message at all. Their motivation is dressing stylishly or feeling good about themselves. Feldhahn has discovered in her research how visual men are, and that they often focus on a woman's attire to the detriment of her message. This is backed up by brain research. According to ABC's John Stossel (who did a program on this information), "The same part of the brain (the nucleus accumbens) lights up when a young man sees a picture of a beautiful woman as when a hungry person sees food, or a gambler eyes cash, or a drug addict sees a fix."

Feldhahn conducted studies in which she showed groups of men the same video, except for the fact that the woman in the video was dressed differently. When they viewed the video of the woman showing cleavage, they retained far less of the information she was presenting than the group of men who saw the same presentation--but the woman was not showing cleavage. The men she interviewed were uncomfortable in admitting this or sharing it, but most agreed: women are taken less seriously in the workplace when they wear tight or short skirts or show cleavage. (You can view clips of this video in the video segment at the bottom of the post.)

The unfortunate finding is that men often think women are trying to distract them sexually, when in fact this is not usually the case. As one executive shared, "Women have the ability to be completely beautiful and completely appropriate...but there is a line that you cross where it becomes distracting, and another line where it could become sexual..." Consequently, men view women who dress this way with less respect, because they are not taken seriously. It also puts men who want to respect women professionally in an awkward position. In her book, she says that she has created a short presentation that can help explain these findings...and it can be downloaded on her website,; however, the website says this tool is "coming soon." This is highly disappointing, as the book was published in 2009 and it's now 2011.

In summary, the men she interviewed expressed their desire to help women in the workplace and suggested that women project confidence and competence to gain respect. I learned a lot from this book and it will help me approach my male colleagues with more understanding. Oh and no more cleavage and miniskirts!! Haha.

If you are interested in learning more, I suggest you watch this video of Feldhahn on the Today Show, with Donny Deutsch:

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