How To Manage Gender and Culture in Virtual Teams

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Like so many managers in today’s new global environment, you’ve been tasked with the responsibility of leading a team of employees–many of whom report to you from multiple locations. Congratulations. You’re a manager, and you have one of the most critical jobs in business.

You’re responsible for the performance of the group.

As I have said before, leading a virtual team can be challenging. You’re expected to maintain morale, keep communication open, overcome technological glitches, keep your workers on task, and meet project objectives.

Today, you’re also expected to manage diversity in your virtual team.

Let’s talk about this. We all make instinctive choices and assessments based on our genders and our cultural backgrounds. And, when everyone on a team has the same, or similar norms, perceptions, and values, interacting with others and doing business is relatively straightforward.

But things get more complicated when we’re working with people whose norms, perceptions, and values are different from our own, something that is an obvious reality in today’s global marketplace. Let’s take gender, to start. While we can agree on many aspects of life and work, men and women also see things very differently, based on their genders.

Gender differences.

For example, community tends to be an important motivator for women. Creating that sense of community within the team, showing how teamwork helps reach a goal faster and better, and offering opportunities for the team to connect socially and personally, will help the women in the group work well with the other employees.

Men, on the other hand, may feel more engaged and committed to team efforts as long as they see the celebration of individual successes and recognize that there are opportunities to promote the team’s visibility. Research shows that men seek first and foremost to be seen as powerful and influential. In contrast, it is more common for women to seek recognition, reward, and appreciation.

Now, obviously, these are generalities. However, they are generalities that tend to hold true for men and women in the workplace.

As I said in an interview with Meghan M. Biro, of TalentCulture, different motivations can lead to gendered behaviors that can leave us at a mismatch. For example, women will thank men a lot. They’ll say, “Thanks so much, we really appreciate it.” Behind closed doors, women will tell you they’re trying to stroke men’s egos. But that doesn’t actually work with men. They don’t want to be thanked — they want to feel important and useful. Another misinterpretation is men will interpret a female coworker’s silence as a non-problem when resentment could actually be brewing. As I said in the podcast, if women are silent, there might be more of a problem than you think.

So gender differences can have a tremendous impact on the dynamics of your virtual team. Particularly when you’re trying to get more participation and engagement.

Cultural differences.

Now let’s take a look at the impact that cultural differences can have on your virtual team. We are all shaped by the cultures in which we have grown up. However, while we make choices and decisions based on our culture, people evaluate our actions based on their cultures. And often we aren’t even aware of this fact–and can be brought up short by misunderstandings based in cultural differences.

There are three different types of culture you deal with as a manager. These cultures drive the behaviors of the people with whom you work and for whom you are responsible. First, there is a national or ethnic culture, the impact of the country or ethnicity in which your employees have grown up. Next, we have company culture. Company culture drives important decisions, like the kind of people who get promoted and the kind of behavior that’s praised or condemned. And finally, you have personal culture. You and I and everyone else behave and have certain preferences that have grown out of everything in our life so far.

Each of these types of culture, and often combinations of the three, can drive the behaviors you manage in your dispersed team. It’s up to you to help your employees work through the gender and culture issues that may arise to work collaboratively and as a high-performing unit.

Three tactics for managing virtual teams.

By now you may be wondering how to go forward with what feels like a massive assignment. If you feel like this, you aren’t alone. Here are three tactics you can employ to manage your dispersed team successfully.

One of the first is to create context for your team. When your employees understand the context or what, why, and who, they are more apt to buy into the overall mission and the individual deliverables for which they are responsible. Creating context helps people from differing cultures see the commonality in an experience or directive, which can go a long way toward building bridges between gender and culture or differences in opinions.

Another powerful tactic is to build a sense of community within your group. For virtual workers, it can be particularly difficult to feel a part of something. Statistics show that meeting face-to-face during a project will increase productivity by 50 percent. Building a sense of community can take many forms–like intentionally connecting via email, video, or phone, three times more per week than a brief status update, even if it’s only to chit-chat for 15 minutes.

Where possible, encourage your team members to go into the local office one day a week to network and meet with colleagues can help increase a feeling of community.

Finally, co-share leadership. As a manager, sharing leadership responsibility is one of the best strategies to involve team members. Each should be empowered to take the lead in a team meeting, take charge of a piece of a project or a whole project, as well as be accountable for specific results in their area of expertise. In a leadership role, team members will feel more responsible for outcomes and more connected to the team and project.

Managing a virtual team is both challenging and rewarding. As I say in my new book, The New Global Manager, effective leadership, and management of a virtual team mean fine-tuning your skills in observation, asking questions and adapting before reacting to the situation–and paying attention to how the issues of gender and culture are impacting the team dynamic.

4 tips for managing gender and culture in virtual teams.

  1. Remain open to different viewpoints and ways of doing things.
  2. Create a culture of communication. Encourage your team to reach out to you and to communicate all the time.
  3. Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable at times. You must develop the ability to accept that particular situation may be unlike anything you’ve experienced before.
  4. Increase your capacity to motivate your team. You need to be able to influence and support individuals across cultures and gender differences to uphold corporate culture and accomplish the company’s goals.

Could you use some assistance managing your virtual team? Contact me. I have more than 20 years of experience in international leadership development, coaching, and team-building. I have helped countless managers learn to work successfully with their virtual teams.

A version of this post was first published on Inc.

Photo credit: 123rf.com

The Real Reason Women Are Leaving Your Company

Let’s get this out of the way: The real reason women are leaving your company (and a myriad of others around the world) is not just because they are moms having babies.

Or lack ambition.

In fact, research from the Pew Research Center shows that 57 percent of women surveyed consider ambition to be an essential trait for a leader; while a fully 63 percent of Millennial women and 61 percent of Gen X have the same opinion.

And yet, they are leaving.

As documented in LeanIn’s Women in the Workplace 2017, 17 percent of women are leaving their jobs in mid-career, which, for a company of 500, represent a loss of 85 employees. Those numbers should concern us all.

As I wrote in my book, #WomenAdvance, women hold 85% of the buying power globally, make up over 50 percent of the workforce, and there are three times as many female-owned start-ups as male-owned. Yet, there are still barriers to women who want to rise to the top of today’s most successful corporations.

So, what’s going on?

A survey published by ICEDR finds that women around age 30 cite pay, lack of learning and development, and a shortage of meaningful work as the primary reasons they leave organizations. Not motherhood.

I hear other reasons too, in my women advancement coaching programs. The participants describe having to work harder to get promoted–and fear having to work harder at their job once promoted.

But what they need to do is to work smarter not harder.

And, it’s not that they are less ambitious than men are. In fact, according to a survey from Accenture, “…moms who return to work after having a child are just as ambitious as women without kids–or, in some cases, even more ambitious,” states Maricar Santos, writing for Working Mother.

Women are leaving your company mid-career because they are being paid less, they are not being offered development opportunities to help them move ahead, and they don’t find the work meaningful enough to sustain them. They leave, looking for something better.

Here’s what I would tell you

Understand that, while women may express more comfort in an individual contributor role, they may also be interested in a management or leadership role. Make sure your company offers the right tools for new managers, so it’s not so daunting. And make sure their managers know how to coach them on learning new skills and find the right career path.

Understand that the atmosphere at work might not feel good. If your leadership team is male-dominated, and those males aren’t used to including women, a woman simply may not feel comfortable in the organization as she progresses up the ladder. You may need to consciously develop a strategy to help create more diverse management and leadership teams.

There are companies out there who are doing precisely that. The Miller Heiman Group, for example, has made a significant investment in gender diversity and equality by recently promoting/hiring three executives to the C-Suite. Why is it so significant? Because promoting these women supports diversity and inclusion at the top and sets the example for the whole company.

And finally, you may not necessarily have a hostile environment or an overt discrimination problem, but you may have differences in communications styles. Men and women communicate differently, and this can cause misunderstanding, downtime, and hurt productivity.

You may be able to help by mentoring the men in your organization and showing them how to communicate with women more effectively. If men can start understanding women and move in their direction, too, it’s not such an energy suck.

Women are excited to contribute to your workforce, they work hard, and will be excellent advocates if your company gets it right. Promote diversity. Support inclusion. Win!

A version of this post was first published on Inc.com 

Photo: rawpixel.com from Pexels

Gender Equality: Tech Still Lags Behind Other Industries [Infographic]

The tech industry by its very nature is progressive and innovative, but when it comes to women in tech, it certainly is not. Monty Munford, Forbes.

Tech companies still lag behind most other industries when it comes to gender equality and the gender makeup of their boards. Out of the top ten tech companies in the world, just how many women hold executive positions?

A version of this post was first published on ecardshack.com

An Open Letter to Men in the Workplace

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Men,

With the recent events in the media, I can imagine you’re a little confused. I feel for you. How can you authentically and naturally interact with women without concern you’ll offend? What words can you use? What actions can you take?

What does it mean when a woman asks you for “support”?

There is professional protocol in business, and most of us do our best to follow that. However, men and women interact very differently—and most of the time we’re totally unaware of that. What happens when we unintentionally slight someone, offend or hurt them? Especially in the workplace.

Here is a list of things I’d like you to consider. How often do you:

  • Thank women regularly for their contribution.
  • Praise women for their competence and a job well-done.
  • Ask open questions to understand a problem, before offering a solution.
  • Say you’ll jump in and help on something.
  • Ask if anyone needs coffee or water before a meeting starts.
  • Refer to a female colleague in a meeting as a “go-to expert.”
  • Give credit in a public forum, “Susan had a great idea when we talked last.”
  • Use names when you’re speaking about or to women.
  • Ask questions, like, “I’d like to offer specific support, what can I do?”
  • Follow through with what you say you’re going to do.

If you’re doing all of these things, women in your organization most likely respect you and enjoy working with you. If you’re doing some of these things, you will be seen as harmless. If you’re doing none of them, I can guarantee women have a problem with you.

Luckily, I’m offering you a complimentary webinar full of “how-to’s” to keep you from making these mistakes, and better yet, to help you turn into a superstar team player that all women will want to work with and for.

The session will explain the differences in men and women’s communications styles. The meaning behind words like “support.” You’ll learn the secrets to advocating for your female colleagues, how to work in mixed teams most effectively, how to read non-verbal signs, and what to do when women are upset.

I guarantee you’ll improve your relationships with women in all aspects of your life and work.

With respect,

Melissa

To sign up for this session click here.

A version of this post was first published on LinkedIn.

Image credit: Jose Hernandez CC 2.0

How to be a Good Ally to Women at Work

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As the #MeToo movement grows in strength, it seems there just might be a silver lining to the Harvey Weinstein scandal. We have a chance to change workplace culture. And one of the places to start is for men to understand the need to be a good ally to women.

The list of women who say they were harassed by film studio exec Harvey Weinstein is astonishing long–and growing by the day.  And sadly, much-admired men, like Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Russell Crowe, are being criticized for standing by and allowing–or even aiding in–Weinstein’s cover-up.

This has precipitated an important discussion on just how many women in the workplace (and life) suffer in silence. And, I believe this discussion of these atrocities has a silver lining.

Through awareness and speaking out, we–men and women–now have an opportunity to change society and workplace culture for the better radically. Men, specifically, can be allies to women.

Men? Here are seven ways you can help.

1. Listen. Listen. LISTEN.

Have you ever been in a conversation where it seems like the other person isn’t getting the message you’re sending? They are on their phone or going completely off topic. It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

We all need to work on our active listening skills–that is, those skills that help you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words a person is saying but try to understand the complete message being sent.

Repeat what’s being said. Ask clarifying questions. And, be patient even if the person could get to the point faster.

2. Learn how the other sex communicates.

Yes, it’s true. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus–at least in how we communicate. The sexes do it quite differently. For example, men have been socialized to take risks quicker. Many women need to formulate a plan and talk through their decisions to feel reassured before they leap.

If a female colleague is feeling uncertain about a decision or task, hear her out and reassure her. (You can download a handy chart of the top five ways women and men communicate differently here).

3. Tell them a job well done.

It always feels good to hear when you’ve done something well, but this is especially true when you may feel subpar as compared to your male colleagues.

Call out your female team members’ good qualities. Tell them when they made a good point in a meeting or aced a presentation.

But, stay away from commenting on appearance or dress. That can be taken the wrong way!

4. Don’t underestimate.

2015 study found that one in three women have been sexually harassed. Now with allegations coming to light from scandals like Bill Cosby or Roger Ailes, this statistic is becoming more believable.

Don’t underestimate what women have gone through to get where they are. There’s a good chance they’ve been treated poorly just because of their sex.

Take them seriously and treat them as equals. And, understand that women may be suspicious of your behavior because of past treatment. Be aware of how you act and how it may be received.

5. Be inclusive.

Here’s a news flash. Not everyone likes to play golf.

Women might prefer to bond doing something else–a wine tasting or a 10k run, for instance. When planning an outing, think about if everyone will feel comfortable and included, but don’t assume. If you are going to play golf or any sport, be sure to invite your female counterparts, too.

6. Think before you ask.

There’s a salient point made in The Confidence Code about the difference in the way men and women ask for things–in that, many men see asking as being weak and instead make demands. But women view asking as a way to foster goodwill.

Men, bear this in mind. Use collaborative speak. Don’t forgo niceties. If you do, you’ll be seen as selfish and pompous–and far from being an ally.

7. Speak up.

Should you observe a woman being treated poorly, demeaned, or harassed in any way shape or form, support her. Encourage her to go to human resources.Offer to go with her and share what you’ve seen. Don’t be afraid to speak up and make your work environment one that is welcoming and inclusive. Be a good ally to women in your workplace.

If there is any positive to the atrocities that have come to light from the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and all the others, it is that they are now in the open. We–men and women–are on the precipice to change what’s gone on for way too long.

If you need help with understanding how to be an ally for women, or if you are a woman who is interested in advancing her career, contact me.

A version of this post was first published on Inc.

Image: cafuego, CC 2.0 

Five Friday Highlights: Gender, Candor, and Keeping Your Word

Gender Equity

This week, I am sharing recent posts which deal with executives who demonstrate progress in the right direction toward eliminating discrimination in the workplace and some who are quite the opposite. Whether it is parental leave issues, age discrimination, or other ways in which bias can play out, we have to talk about it in order to effect change. A few of today’s posts suggest how to do that.

Although it is exciting to see that Melissa Harris’s employer made arrangements for a consultant to cover her duties during her maternity leave so that she could be assured that the work would get handled and she would retain her job security, it is even more refreshing to read how he kept his word about the arrangement. Such a fundamental quality, yet one that is lacking in many corporate environments today. Read the full story in Executives on maternity leave: Help has arrived by Jane Hirt with Melissa Harris.

Sometimes the simple act of keeping your word is profound progress toward #genderparity. {TWEET THIS}

I don’t know if Melissa Harris’s boss had a women’s cultural coach like Bonnie Marcus discusses via Forbes in The Real Reason Male CEOs Commit to Diversity, but he clearly “gets it” on the topic of actively engaging with what a female in his workforce needs to continue making a professional contribution.

In contrast to Melissa Harris’s experience, Dan Lyons writes that his supervisor at HubSpot didn’t have any commitment to fairness in the workforce, at least where age is concerned. In When It Comes to Age Bias, Tech Companies Don’t Even Bother to Lie, Lyons shared the HubSpot CEO’s statement to the New York Times that “age imbalance was not something he wanted to remedy, but in fact something he had actively cultivated.”

Like Kimball Scott, in Thoughts on Gender and Radical Candor, I am positive change is not going to happen without significant shifts in how we communicate with one another in the workplace (and especially in the C-Suite). This lengthy read is worth your time. Scott explores why progress slows to a crawl or even reverts when people “fail to care personally and challenge directly.”

In my travels around the world, I have met thousands of people, each of whom has a personal success definition. Sallie Krawcheck’s My Metric for Success? It’s All About Impact posed the success question in a unique way. She has a dual goal of helping women advance in business and working to close the gender investing gap. It is her statement about why she had to try that most resonates with me, though, and I believe applies to all of us trying to make business more equitable for women:

And why me? Because shame on me if I don’t go after this. ~ Sally Krawchek

What difference can you make in gender parity? Have you personally faced an inequity at work? Was it resolved satisfactorily or in a way that prohibited your productivity? Email me by clicking here to let me know!

Image Credit: Fotolia christianchan

Helping Women Advance

Helping Women Advance

Over the past year, I’ve been asked more and more to facilitate sessions on gender communication and advancement strategies for women. So much so that I recently launched a coaching program exclusively for female leaders who want to learn how to improve communication in the workplace, accelerate career paths, and create a work-life balance. You can find out more about my Advancement Strategies for Women program here.

I’ve also found myself writing a lot about these topics and wanted to put highlights from the past year’s posts in one place for you:

  • Click here to see why women have a tough time saying “no” and how they can get better at it.
  • This article gives tips on how to have it all—a successful career and a healthy relationship. Hint: Communication is king (or queen).
  • Check out my controversial post on the three qualities successful female leaders in the global workforce share—and see if you agree with the LinkedIn commenters who said it was the worst advice they ever heard or the ones who said it was the best.
  • Here are tips on how to flirt and why it can be good for business.
  • This article gives women questions to ask to figure out if they need a mentor or sponsor, and what the difference is between the two.
  • This post discusses how women can be assertive without being called “bossy”—and why the word “bossy” needs to be banned.

Hopefully, these posts provide helpful guidance to women seeking career success. If you want more one-on-one assistance to improve communication with male colleagues, accelerate your career path, and create and sustain work-life balance, check out my Advancement Strategies for Women program here. Also, feel free to email me directly at Melissa@lamsonconsulting.com. I hope to hear from you!

Image credit: Fotolia Sergey Nivens

Five Friday Highlights: Powerful Women and Leaning in Together

“Women are good for business” is the lead sentence in one of today’s highlighted articles. Of course they are! However, the path for powerful women (i.e., ALL women) to contribute their talents, energies, and intellect can still be rocky. This week, a look at the role of creativity in STEM education, and then a look at how creativity is being applied to open doors for women. To close things out, a post with thoughts on balance once the doors have been opened and the women are fully exerting their power in the workplace. What happens at home?

Much of my work is in technical industries, so I encounter women who utilize STEM skills routinely as part of their work. I agree with The Importance of Adding an “A” for Art + Design to the Famous Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Acronym in Sharp Heels. Young women (and men!) who are receiving a STEM-centric education still need to have their creativity nurtured and encouraged. As the article’s closing line states, “you can’t have science that truly means something to the mass of humanity if it lacks art, or art without some aspect of science.”

I was fascinated to read in Empowering Women Veteran Entrepreneurs from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) that the number of veteran women-owned businesses in the U.S. has increased by nearly 300% since 2007! The SBA’s efforts on behalf of women veteran entrepreneurs includes resources such as loan programs, technical assistance, and V-WISE (Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship), a three-phase program which “enables women veterans to find their passion and learn business-savvy skills to turn ideas or businesses into growth ventures.”

Why isn’t there more female participation in the workforce? asks Want Double-Digit Growth? Hire Women from Fortune Magazine. As the piece outlines, a report from Citi’s Global Perspectives and Solutions reveals two reasons: policies and the outcome of these restrictive policies. Take the time to read the report; its insights are thought-provoking.

“This new era of women’s leadership development is no longer about struggle but rather about focus and balance” claims Louise A. Korver for Talent Management in Best Practices for a Different Kind of Women’s Leadership. Of the seventeen suggested best practices, two that stand out to me are “focus on career development” and “get women on boards.” Which of the seventeen do you think would have the most impact? (Tweet me at @melissa_lamson1 to let me know!)

Even once we women put together the intelligence, strategy, and communication skills to contribute our substantial assets to the world, we still have “home.” After all that Leaning In, how do we create an equitable distribution of time and energy to those who matter most? As the people quoted in Mark Zuckerberg Posts Baby Picture to Encourage  Active, Loving Fathers from Mashable, perhaps the Lean In equation needs an addition: TOGETHER. Read the #LeanInTogether quotes from high-powered businesspeople and tell me what you think!

Once women are fully exerting their power at work, how can families #LeanInTogether at home? {TWEET THIS}

Image Credit: Fotolia Sergey Nivens

Five Friday Highlights: Gender Parity

Gender Parity

Were you involved in any International Women’s Day (IWD) observances earlier this month? This year’s observance included the #PledgeForParity campaign, which encouraged participants to put gender parity on the agenda on International Women’s Day and beyond. One of today’s featured articles was released specifically for IWD. The others weren’t targeted to the day of observance, but still address important issues of equity and parity.

On International Women’s Day, Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines published Equality is Not Just Women’s Business. Noting that “the World Economic Forum predicts that it will take until 2133 to achieve global gender parity,” Branson explained what his company is doing to make gender parity a reality. He wrote, “Business can and must do so much more to promote equality, respect and fairness. Removing barriers like discrimination and divisions is a necessity for business success. At Virgin, we have … created an environment where all people can thrive – because of who they are, not in spite of it.”

Every individual, female OR male, can make a difference for #GenderParity! ~ {TWEET THIS}

It was a bold statement for Shell United States to proclaim “a new era in supplier diversity openness and transparency has begun” when they introduced their new Shell Supplier Diversity website. Although supplier diversity is a different genre than gender or cultural diversity, by its nature it requires an organization to think differently and to set definitive goals for itself. Shell proclaims it will provide “a storehouse of information, both specific to the energy industry and more general and applicable to working with any multi-national.” It will be interesting to see what happens!

It’s important to note that the very definition of diversity varies depending on perspective. In Millennials Have a Different Definition of Diversity and Inclusion from Fast Company, Lydia Dishman analyzed the results of a study from Deloitte and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative (BJKLI). Dishman summarized the authors’ advice to leaders: they should “remember that what brought diversity into their company isn’t the same as what it will take to support that talent.”

The Time-Consuming Activities That Stall Women’s Careers from the Harvard Business Review explained that women face a “triple whammy” when trying to find the right balance when managing their time commitments at home and work. The triple whammy includes housework, actual time at work, and the way they spend their time at the office. Most importantly, author Rebecca Shambaugh provided four steps women can take to allocate their time more effectively in order to advance professionally.

I was impressed with this article stating that a strategy will close the gender gap, not that it may close the gender gap! Kristy Wallace of Ellevate explained why senior management engagement is so critical. Creating an Employee Executive Board Will Close the Gender Gap in Business makes the case for a group different than a diversity “committee.” It recommends “an independent internal committee that convenes key stakeholders — the Corporate Board of Directors, senior leadership, clients and employees” — a board with sufficient executive authority to set corporate goals and dictate measures that can move organizations toward those goals.

Did you read something this week that gave you hope for gender parity? I would love to hear about it! Click here to email me with your recommendations!