Not getting the promotions you expect and deserve? Missing out on plum assignments? Wondering why you were out of the loop on a crucial bit of news? Although women have made great strides in the workplace, too many women are feeling stuck or passed over. There are solutions.
One is to think of business as a game. Men do. Men approach their work with the same mindset they use in competitive sports. Competitive sports, war and the workplace are governed by a set of unwritten rules familiar to most men but unknown to most women. Unfamiliarity with these rules is the most significant and elusive factor trapping women below the glass ceiling.
If you want to win at the game of "WORK," you have to know the rules of the game.
There are two sets of rules in business. You are probably very familiar with the set governing skills of the trade. But there is an unwritten set of rules at play that everyone is also expected to honor. Unfortunately, most women are unaware of these rules.
Men have been practicing the unwritten rules all their lives. Nobody directly teaches them. Boys absorb the rules by example while playing sports and then comfortably transfer them from their games to their work. The rules feel so natural that it would never occur to a man to explain them to you; he assumes you already know them.
Men and women approach work differently because they grow up differently. Children learn to interact with the world through the games they play. Boys' and girls' childhood games teach very different skills, values and ways of relating to others. Boys' games stress conflict and competition while girls' games stress cooperation and development of noncompetitive skills. Boys learn leadership, conflict resolution and organizational skills because their games are played in large groups, or teams, requiring the coordination of many players. Girls aren't forced to learn conflict resolution or organizational skills because most of their play is in small cooperative groups. As girls, most of us did not have a reason to learn the complicated, rigid rules of male games.
While the games of boys and girls both teach essential life skills, like it or not, the culture of the workplace is still predominately male. As adults, men carry their reliance on, and respect for, the formal rules of childhood games to the workplace.
My purpose in writing these rules is not to encourage you to act like men. That would be disastrous. It is to help women understand men and the rules they work by. When you know the rules, you can anticipate men's behavior and gain an edge in negotiations and competition. The business world makes more sense to you. You feel a reduction in your level of stress. You avoid hostility created by inadvertently breaking rules you never knew existed. You instantly get along better with your male co-workers. Understanding the rules gives you the opportunity to evaluate male and female ways of viewing the world and to pick the best of each.
Right now, these male rules still govern the game of business. In the future, men and women must evaluate these rules and decide if they are really the best way to do business. Working together, we can develop a culture that values people, appreciates diversity, cares about the quality of life, is responsive to family needs and is more efficient and effective than ever before.
- Rule 1: Act Competent. The operative word in this rule is "act." Being perceived as competent is every bit as important as being competent.
- Rule 2: Act Strong. Not all men are strong, and even strong men don’t always feel strong. But men learn how to look and act strong. Often, the strongest person in any game is the person in control. Always try to take control and be in control.
- Rule 3: Keep Playing to Win Even When the Game is No Longer Fun. There are parts of every competitive sport that aren’t fun. Champions know that if they want the pleasure of winning, they must endure periods of tedium and pain. Business is no different. There are times you have to do things that you would rather not do.
- Rule 4: Don't Get Emotionally Involved While Playing the Game. Traits such as sensitivity, empathy and responsivity to others’ emotions are assets. However, these same traits can become liabilities if not monitored carefully. Emotional responses can cloud good business sense.
- Rule 5: Being Aggressive Is Part of the Game. In business, plum assignments and recognition go to the most aggressive. It’s essential to press for the jobs and assignments you want, make yourself visible and take risks.
- Rule 6: Fighting is Part of the Game. "Fair fighting" has a long, honored tradition in our culture. Fair fighting means trying to win by inflicting the least amount of damage possible to your opponent, letting your opponent save face and looking like a gracious winner and a good loser.
- Rule 7: You Are Part of a Team. Team playing is more than just cooperating. It is a formal way of relating that men take very seriously. The most important tenants of team play are to be loyal to the team, put the good of the team before personal interest and give 100 percent all the time.
About the Author
Adrienne Mendell is a licensed psychologist, consultant, keynote speaker and principal of Gender Matters, a consulting company specializing in finding practical solutions to the problems that men, women and organizations face as the genders struggle to work together. Adrienne’s popular book, How Men Think: The Seven Essentials Rules for Making It in a Man's World (Ballantine Books, 1996) has been translated into 10 languages.