Office Politics: The Different Ways Men and Women Navigate the Workplace

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Every social situation is determined by the interactions of group members. In the world of business, these interactions form the concept of office politics – the method by which individuals interact, seek advantages, and ultimately climb up and down the social ladder. While each individual reacts to this process differently, there is enough evidence to suggest that men and women do, on average, tend to deal with office interactions in different ways. The difference in methodology can make it difficult to solve certain problems in the business world, especially if managers and company owners aren’t aware of these different styles of adaptation.

Office politics: Men vs women

The purpose of examining the difference between the reactions of men and women to office politics isn’t to dredge up sexist gender stereotypes, or to make claims that one gender or the other is better adapted to the environment. Instead, it’s a necessity for those in management positions to examine the most typical reactions in order to better understand the behavior of most employees in the workplace. While it’s necessary to understand that neither all men nor all women exhibit these behaviors, even taking a nuanced view of the subject matter does reveal some interesting patterns of office interactions.

office politics

A nose to the grindstone approach

Generally speaking, women are more likely than men to trust in the fact that their work should speak for itself. This does not necessarily mean that women work harder or that men are louder about their accomplishments, but rather that women tend to be (as a group) less likely to speak up in favor of their own advancement in the office. This can be problematic, but it can also create an incredible amount of project focus.

Women who prefer this approach can often have difficulty navigating offices in which self-promotion is a necessity. They can often find themselves passed up for assignments and promotions even if they have a strong resume. While putting faith in one’s work is certainly important, not being able to promote that work as a reason for future success can make it very difficult to stand out from your peers within an office environment.

Playing the game

If there is an area that is stereotypically the province of men in the office, it’s in the ability to “play the game”. Because men as a gender tend to be less defined by the sexual politics of the workplace, they tend to be better able to take advantage of certain actions that help them climb the ladder. For example, men can more easily ask a (male) supervisor for a chance to talk about a new idea over coffee or push for inclusion on a specific team. Men are no better at determining where the wind is blowing than women, but often have better access to methods of taking advantage of major changes in the workplace.

Again, this is not because of some preternatural ability of men to better work the system, or even because of gender-related preferences. Simply put, men are often expected to take advantage of these openings while women are not. As such, men tend to be more aggressive when taking advantage of existing systems.

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Soft power

Soft power is a concept that tends to be overlooked in many office interactions. While many are hung up on the position of an individual in the hierarchy or on titles, the exercise of soft power tends to have greater, if more indirect, results. The exercise of this type of power is typically done by both men and women, though in different ways. Both genders can make use of the various elements of this type of power in order to better position themselves within an office and, ultimately, better help a company to succeed.

Women are stereotyped in their ability to master several types of soft power, and there is at least some truth behind the fiction. In general, women are thought of as better able to be inclusive, to listen to their peers and subordinates, and to set aside personal aims in favor of group goals. Men, on the other hand, tend to excel at building up formal and informal support within the company. It’s often through entrenched networks that this is possible, but it is nonetheless a major part of accessing this kind of important interoffice power.

Win-win and zero sum

Both men and women are exposed to corporate cultures that tend to emphasize the necessity of being a winner at all costs. Sports metaphors fly around the office and various methods of rewarding success (and punishing failure) tend to be par for the course in most parts of the business world. The genders, however, react to this focus on winning in very different ways. While men tend to primarily focus only upon those solutions that allow them to win, women have a greater tendency to seek out solutions that allow all parties involved some measure of victory.

Men do have a tendency to seek out those solutions with a clear winner and a clear loser; it is not enough that one wins, but that one’s rival should also be diminished at the same time. Women, on the other hand, tend to make sure that both parties walk away with at least their dignity intact. This makes it more likely that a woman will be able to preserve an existing relationship even after a conflict, at least at a surface level. While the actions of men are often perceived as more successful, the actions of women are often more successful for long-term cooperation.

office politics

Informal power

There are two types of informal power in the office, though they are in no way equal. The first – the positions of power outside the traditional hierarchy – tend to be more often dominated by women than men. These positions are often those that require the individual in question to be masters of the unspoken rules of the workplace. Women, who have traditionally been more accustomed to dealing with unwritten societal rules inside and outside of the workplace, tend to be more adept at observing and ultimately enforcing the rules.

Men, however, tend to be more able to take advantage of informal hierarchies that require networking. These informal networks tend to take place as almost exclusive fraternities, with golf games after meetings or quick chats beforehand. It is not that women don’t strive to take advantage of this type of power, but rather that they are typically excluded. The opposite may, however, be true in businesses that have a gender balance in favor of female employees or feature more women in positions of power.

It’s important to remember that many of these methods of navigating the world of office politics are valid. When they clash, though, problems can occur and lines can be crossed. When these lines are crossed, it’s possible for the company to come under fire for failing to handle those conflicts in a reasonable manner. Understanding how to best manage human resources issues before they become a problem is a key part of making sure your business is successful.

Consult with a human resource specialist

If your business requires help navigating such difficult conundrums, don’t delay – a trusted human resource consulting firm can help you cultivate a plan to nurture the relationships between men and women in the office space. PayTech has over 30 years human resources experience in developing, facilitating, and consulting for companies of all sizes. Visit here to contact a human resource specialist today.



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