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A big part of conflict within the workplace stems, unfortunately, from the basic fact that men and women are different. We are wired differently, therefore we work differently. As society strives to encourage a more symbiotic workplace, have we maybe thrown a wrench in the plan through the “Me Too” movement and other female empowerment initiatives? Kelly Thurman, 4word Board Chair and respected business executive, shares her thoughts on how women can break into “the old boys club” without sacrificing their personal beliefs and workplace styles.
What has been your experience with the “old boys club” in your career?
It is real. I have worked the majority of my life in male-dominated industries and have felt the exclusion and the need to learn what makes them different. I have two brothers, which probably helped me understand the sports banter and competitive spirit. Having them in my life also taught me about the need to honor men and to seek out the good traits and contributions they can make and focus on them.
Why do men in the workplace seemingly gravitate away from their female peers?
People naturally gravitate to people who think, feel, and do things like them. Men and women act differently; we respond to chaos, order, office politics, and feedback in different ways. I found it was wise to be a student of how people behave and respond, and learn how to act around different people in a manner that puts them at ease and enables them to be their best around me.
Men have been told since they were young to not demonstrably show emotion. Therefore, they are often uncomfortable around women who are emotional.
I think the “Me Too” movement has done a lot of good by helping women verbalize real things that happened to them. However, I also have men who have built rock-solid careers tell me they feel at risk around women. Anything done to an extreme has repercussions, and I think the platform has set us back in terms of men wanting to include us more.
From early childhood, women are taught to collaborate, play nice, and be good girls. A lot of the competitive, take charge, leading aspects of business have traditionally been filled by men. As a result, the learned role expectations are highly ingrained and gradually changing. I think a lot of male leaders see how their mom or wife stayed at home and project that ideology on females at work. The good news is that women have participated in the market more this last generation and so these stereotypes are slowly uncoupling.
As women, what behaviors or actions are we exhibiting in the workplace that are potentially cutting us off from being “invited to the table” with our male colleagues?
I think grandstanding about women in the work place is met with resistance. I believe doing good work, earning a seat at the table, and bringing meaningful value and leadership are the keys to being invited and included in higher levels of leadership.
I think showing high levels of emotion is something no one wants to deal with. Learning how to appropriately use emotion and observe how you behave impacts others and adjusting accordingly is a key skill women want to master. When women make demands, ask for a string of concessions, seek preferential treatment, and appear as a high maintenance employee, they are self-inflicting a reputation upon themselves. Many of these women then cry foul or play the victim if their requests remain unfulfilled. This hostility creates a deeper divide.
I think a better way to approach creating a favorable work environment includes having civil conversations, making godly appeals of those in leadership, and seeking win-win solutions. These actions are what earns you respect and thoughtful consideration.
Is being a part of the “old boys club” a smart professional goal? Or should we be focusing more on finding other ways to advance in our careers?
Seeking to be part of the “RESULTS CLUB” is a professional goal. Building a strong network of influencers, results posting individuals, and leaders is more my focus. I believe in building relationships with senior leaders, peers, employees, and others that can give me insights and perspectives which will enhance my decision-making and leadership. I believe in sowing and reaping and diligently look for opportunities to help others, connect people and opportunities, and be of service whenever I can.
I caution people not to have ”winner takes all” and “take no prisoner” strategies to results. It is important to get results while making good character choices. Each of us is a brand and we are evaluated by our results, not by our intentions. We need to make sure that when we are high-achieving performers, we do it in a manner that honors company values and righteous character choices including honoring all stakeholders.
I think having a strong network of both men and women is part of long-term success. Building a network and serving along the way is key to when you may need assistance. Most people are lazy and seek a network only when they have a need and then once the need is met, they fade away. Having a generous spirit and a willingness to serve regardless of the season you are in is key to strong leaders. Being generous with your knowledge, network, opportunities, and resources is something I recognize in the good leaders I work with.
How can we find a balance between blending in to what we think our male colleagues want us to be, and being so true to ourselves that we turn people off?
I embrace being a woman and a business executive. I am sure my male colleagues will tell you my leadership style is very people centric. I take time to listen and seek opinions of others before I draw conclusions, yet when it comes to make a decision, I will do it with authority and conviction. Developing your skills around how people like to process, receive, engage and digest information and decisions is a key to winning at work. Your ability to accommodate the highly driven leader with swift actions and results while simultaneously engaging the deep thinking leader by unpacking and giving a 360 look at decisions is key.
Men in general are quick to act and solve, and I curb my need for a lot of dialogue and deep discussions and make keen quick decisions. These choices earn me respect, credibility, and a vote of confidence. At times, I honor my need for more information and seek it outside of the meeting and use the knowledge to aide me in the moment.
I believe that people who say, “It is just the way I am” are somewhat lazy. They are basically saying it is the responsibility of others to accommodate their style and preferences and that they do not care about the systemic impact of their choices. Leadership takes effort and skill, which is cultivated through trial and error. Each of us has a different need for staying true to ourselves and weighing the cost of making changes or making adjustments and considerations that seem to violate fundamental values is tough. I have one executive who will not move from Chicago and it took about three years longer to get him to a CIO level because he would not move. Living near entended family trumped his desire to ascend.
Women traditionally hold the majority of child rearing roles, taking kids to school, doctors, after school activities, and so on. This is likely the area of greatest difficulty navigating the role of mom with business leader and being their definition of ‘great’ at both. These tradeoffs are tricky and are for a season of life. Knowing your values, tradeoffs, and willingness to make changes are personal and there is not a right or wrong. It is your choice and our choices may or may not have consequences.
The congruence of aligning our values at work and and in our personal lives is a key factor in contentedness. Finding a company that honors your ideas and values will have a lot to do with your view of the world and work. Reconciling issues such as which company to work for, which one will pay you what you want, do the work you want to do, where and when you want it done are all variable.
An admired and respected business executive, Kelly Thurman has a 20-year accomplished record in building new lines of business and significantly improving corporate margins. She has been responsible for leading high impact teams at some of the world’s leading firms such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Western International Media, Sprint and EDS.
Kelly is an astute strategist with remarkable insight and clarity about what it takes to be successful. She has led strategy development initiatives in several companies and has a demonstrated track record in the successful development and implementation of key business strategies in a variety of industries. She is a highly engaging speaker and facilitator that helps individuals link learning and new ideas with real world application. Her business acumen and ability to synthesize practical experience with a fresh outlook make for a rewarding and challenging exchange.