More from Shaunti Feldhahn, Part 1

Two weeks ago, we interviewed Shaunti Feldhahn about her book For Women Only. This week, we’re sharing the latter part of that interview about her latest book, For Women Only in the Workplace.


4word: You state in your book that for women to understand how men think in the workplace is like working to understand a foreign culture. What do you mean by that?

Shaunti: When you go into a different culture, like Japan, you know they have a host of expectations that are different from yours. They’re not written down in a manual, but they are there, and they impact the way someone from that culture views you. The same is true for women in any workplace that is male-dominated or has strong male leadership.

In my research, I found that most men share a common set of expectations and perceptions that differ from women’s. One of the highest-level men that I interviewed is the global president of a Fortune 50 company. I asked him for advice to strong, talented women with a lot of potential. He told me the same thing he tells his sales team: “Know your audience. Women instinctively know how other women will perceive something, but they don’t know how men will.” Once you know how your audience is thinking, you can tailor your response to them.

For example, one unwritten rule is not to take things personally. In men’s minds, personal feelings belong back at home, in “personal world.” This is part of the way they are wired, whereas, for women, we need to have our personal feelings invested or else we aren’t as motivated. This difference leads to men viewing a woman who doesn’t leave her feelings at home and thinking two things. First, they think, “well she’s hitting her numbers, but she’s not as business-savvy.” Second, they feel uncomfortable and think, “I’m not sure I want to make her my go-to person. I’d rather work with someone who responds in a way I can understand.”

It is a new skill set for women to learn, but once we learn it, we can present ourselves well and become the go-to person. As opposed to what often happens now, which is that men will think, “Oh Susan’s a great utility player, but she’s not so much leadership material.”

4word: I’m sure that some women who read your book might say, “Why should we be the ones who have to change? That’s not fair!” What would you say to them?

Shaunti: I’d ask, “would you change the way you approach going into Japan?” Isn’t it a better idea, when you’re going into a new culture, to do whatever you need to avoid shooting yourself in the foot? It’s not about what’s fair; the issue is what will make you better, more respected and more influential. Once women learn what men are privately perceiving and expecting of them in work situations, it’s game-changing.

Women will be far more effective and influential once we understand those perceptions and expectations. The thing to realize is that you do not have to do anything differently. Once you have the knowledge, you can make an informed decision about how to respond to this other culture. It puts the power in your hands to control how you’re perceived, rather than having that perception managed for you.


We’ll be back with more from Shaunti later this afternoon. In the meantime, what do you ladies think? Do you agree with the idea that working in a male-dominated workplace is like being in a foreign culture? Let us know in the comments.