Different Experiences. Different Perceptions

Updated from a previously-posted, widely-read blog

There’s an old story, first told by Charles Dickens, about how someone having lunch in a restaurant was dumfounded by a sign across the street that read: “mooreeffoc.” For the life of her, she couldn’t figure out what it meant. Then it all became clear. She had been looking at the sign through a glass door. “mooreeffoc” was “coffeeroom” spelled backwards.

It’s a great metaphor for how our perceptions can confound and confuse, and is especially applicable to how men and women perceive their workplace differently.

Corporations and their hierarchical structure were produced, directed and designed by men—in most cases white men. The resulting organizational culture (with its stated and unstated rules) is one with which men have been comfortable from hunter/gatherer days. Not so for women. Their prototype tends to revolve more around community and joint interaction.

Fortunately, during the past few years, we have been seeing a change in this great divide. Men and women are starting to more clearly perceive where the other is coming from. Men are better at understanding the challenges corporate women face and how to work more effectively with women at all levels. Women are becoming more attuned to merging their success with corporate goals and as a result, more are reaching the highest corporate levels. We are increasingly moving towards the bottom line being the unified purpose that defines the corporate experience for both men and women. Still a long way to go, but definite progress.

Perfection vs. Excellence
In my more than 25 years of helping women advance their careers, I have noticed the tendency for women to be perfectionists about their work. They believe that because they have done such a great job, their work should speak for itself. It’s a career-thwarting mental set. It can result in too much effort in the wrong direction. It can cause women to become burnt out early on. It can leave little or no time for the all-important work of building relationships through mentors, networks and sponsors. Perfectionism also draws women inward rather than outward, causing them to lose sight of ensuring that their work product supports corporate goals.

Men have a keener sense of where to expend their energy, whether it’s at the keyboard or on the golf course. They know who to talk to and how to talk to them. As a result, they stay more keyed in to both industry developments and to the internal workings of the organization; and they have allies and alliances that watch out for them.

Women are catching up and catching on, but there’s a way to go, especially for early-career women. They need to grow their confidence and their relationships. They need to understand that work product is only one piece of their job; that visibility is the key to long-term career success and that connecting what they do to customer and corporate needs is a major route to that much-needed visibility.

The Feedback Challenge
It’s very frustrating to see how feedback, the lifeblood of change and growth, can be so difficult for men to provide and for women to seek out. Male managers often find it challenging to level with their female subordinates. This reticence does women a terrible disservice, failing to give them the opportunity to make needed changes to grow their careers, or even keep their jobs.

Women on the other hand, often do not hear the more subtle feedback provided by their managers and colleagues. Furthermore, they fail to ask the outright questions like: “How am I doing?” “What could I have done better?” “Where is there room for improvement?” This barrier needs to be torn down on both sides. It’s a huge stumbling block to women advancing their careers and becoming the major contributors their organizations need. For 25 years, we at WOMEN Unlimited, have been working with both talented women and their managers to facilitate this vitally important feedback process.

One final piece of advice. The next time you come up against a corporate “mooreeffoc,” look at the situation from a different perspective. You’re likely to find one or more solutions that deal with the problem at hand.

Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.