02 July 2007

Are women employees better than men?

During a job interview, I was asked whether women employees were better than men. Honestly, I was caught off-guard. I took it as a trick question since my interviewers were both women. I answered that it was difficult to tell. That it depended on the job description and the responsibilities that came with the job. My interviewers weren’t satisfied with this and insisted on an answer: Were women employees better or worse than their male colleagues?

Put to the test, I was clearly uncomfortable, but suggested that I could, perhaps, state in what respects I considered women employees to be better than men. My interviewers accepted this proposition as a suitable alternative to their question and so I rattled off (a) women don’t bring their egos into their work like men do and pick fights with each other; (b) women are more compassionate than men in dealing with conflict; and (c) women can handle failure more maturely than men.

At that time I had no idea if my answer had hit the mark. But later, upon learning that I had been selected for the job, I met up with my interviewers and quizzed them. I just had to know whether my answer to that question had fit the response expected. Unfortunately, till this day, I’m still in the dark as to whether my answer was the right one. All I was told was that my answer was ‘sensible’ and that, though uncomfortable, I did not seem to be provoked by the question. That, temperament-wise, I was okay.

Although this news was heartening, the situation had me thinking: If we, men, aren’t comfortable answering questions about our women colleagues, how comfortable can we be in dealing with, or managing, them on a day-to-day basis? Or, as managers, in appraising them or mentoring them when the time comes? What’s more, I wondered, would women managers be as sensitive to women employees as male managers are expected to be?

That’s not all. Many more questions dogged my mind: Are women employees different from their male colleagues (in spite of my off-the-cuff answer at the interview)? Do women employees really bring anything special to the job which their male colleagues can’t, or don’t? Do women employees need different ways of managing or mentoring? And, of course, are women employees better than men?


Madhuri said...

Of course they are! What is there to ask :-)
I think I will comment here on a more modest note later.
Nice to see you back in cyberworld!

runawaysun said...

Thanks for welcoming me back from my hiatus. Am still waiting for your comments 'on a more modest note'. Meanwhile, my latest post may give you something more to think about.

Madhuri said...

Here goes my modest answer:
Yes women employees are different than men in many ways. You are right when you say we don't pick fights at work, but you are wrong when you say we don't bring ego to work. We do. There are those seething moments when you could break the skull of a person for ruling you over, and trust me it hurts us as much as it hurts men. But we are less aggressive by design. This lack of aggression is also sometimes the cause for a lower pay as you hint upon- during salary negotiations I have found myself and my women friends backing out in 1-2 rounds, while my men friends are generally more adamant and ambitious in stating their terms.
I also think that women are atleast a shade more sincere than their male counterparts. But yes, we are moody and slightly emotional. And sometimes a bad review brings us down more severely than others.
As far as career ambitions go - that varies from person to person as it does in men. I think if there was a social acceptance to men sitting at home while the wife works, some men might have taken that option. So some women do take that as an option. Others do it out of compulsion. There is immense social pressure on women to bear a child and take care of it and the hiatus of this period is often damaging to careers, especially in Indian companies where there is an overflow of talent. You have to be far stronger than an average career conscious man to be a career conscious woman as the expectations from you are different.

runawaysun said...

Thanks Madhuri; great feedback. It has given me an idea for another blog post. This morning, I’ve posted something on a related topic, but there’s enough here to write another post. So, stay tuned.

The point you’ve raised (in the last sentence) about ‘expectations’ from men and women being different… is that true? I know expectations vary according to job roles, but I’m not sure if they vary according to gender in the same job role. In the senior management positions I’ve held in my various jobs, I’ve had the same expectations from my male and my female executives. My expectations have been derivatives of their KRAs, which were explained to them at the beginning of their terms.

Madhuri said...

When I say expectations, I don't just mean professional ones. As one single person, one is expected to be responsible for both professional and family life. However a greater commitment is expected from women when it comes to the family front.

runawaysun said...

I agree, a greater commitment is expected from women when it comes to the family front.

I had deliberately kept the discussion in the professional sphere simply because points like the one you’ve raised here, I believe, are really more ‘global’ issues – i.e. they are career/life/family issues that consume both men and women in all societies. Albeit, they consume men less than they do women as the woman’s involvement in managing the family is unquestioned.

Men are usually relegated to earning more and more as family and lifestyle demands increase. Provide security, for starters. This can be stressful as the commitment to provide for the family increases – or, at least, is not reduced – as the family’s needs increase over the years. However, it’s true, men don’t have to rush back home to make dinner for the family, or drop off from work to take the children to the doctor when they have fever, or take maternity leave.

For men, since there is a strong reliance/demand on providing for the family, the growing need to prosper at work (earn more money, move up the ladder, etc.) is important – and an imperative. A family man cannot just leave his job and sit at home (a point you had mentioned in your earlier comments). Perhaps, that’s one of the reasons why men are expected to be more committed at work – and more committed in building their careers.

It is a collective societal issue, not just a gender issue.

Madhuri said...

I think the professional and personal commitments cannot be viewed in isolation since the person fulfilling them is one. If one has to do more on one side, one is likely to fall short on the other.

runawaysun said...

I agree, absolutely. The 'falling short' is what happens all the time.