A Bridge To Cross the Gender Divide: Managing the gender issue in the workforce

Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In (an honest, perspective-inducing, good oratory for every man) has been in the spotlight lately based on her polarizing opinions regarding women and their will to lead. I have come to the conclusion that even though she makes what some would call uncomfortable statements about the gender divide in the workplace, she kind of has to. Isn’t that the whole point?

Sandberg is the current COO of Facebook and former exec at Google, as well as a mom and wife—not necessarily in that order.

In the book, she urges women in the workforce to step up, lean in, or whatever you want to call it, but she also recognizes the fact that doing this is not always the right choice for all women. The main takeaway seems to be simply that it’s okay to discuss gender and diversity in the workforce, and to ensure it’s part of the conversation.

So, today, I will do her a solid and make it part of the conversation.

As we look at leadership roles in corporate institutions, as well as in government, it’s obvious the number of men in those leadership positions overwhelm those of women. You have to think, why?

3 great points to take away from Sandberg’s discussion:

  • Think about subconscious stereotyping: Sandberg shares a gender-bending experiment in her book that focuses on Heidi Roizen, a successful entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. In this investigation, a professor at Columbia University took a case study Heidi had written and copied it word-for-word, altering only one important detail: He changed Heidi’s name to Howard. 

    The professor then gave both the Heidi and “Howard” case studies to business school students and surveyed them on their impressions of the two individuals. What do you think—were the man and woman perceived differently because of their genders?

    Good news? Students found Howard and Heidi equally competent. Bad news? Students liked Howard. Howard was a great guy who had smarts, leadership qualities, and a great personality. This wasn’t the case for Heidi. The students weren’t sure that they trusted her or would want to work for her.


    Conclusion? If a woman seems really nice, she’s considered more nice than competent. Since people want to hire and promote those who are both competent and nice, women get the short end of the stick here.

  • Get on the mentor train: Managers, listen up! If you want to better your company’s standing, mentor more women! Men are more likely to mentor men for various reasons that I won’t get into here (it doesn’t “look good”), so if women won’t put themselves at the table, YOU put them at the table. Empower them to be confident. Women are naturally tough on themselves and less likely to speak up for themselves when they have something to say. Understanding this can allow you to encourage, promote, and champion more women in the workforce. 
  • Become a Part of the Conversation: Great leaders have the ability to look inward and check their motives. Relevant books on leadership have proven to be controversial simply because they are applicable to what is going on at that specific time. This is the case with Lean In. In the past ten years, women in leadership position have stalled, making Sandburg and others questions why. Maybe we should, too. 

As the landscape of our workforce changes, it’s hard to ignore the themes presented by Sandburg. Like her or not, she makes great points and backs them up. Every good leader would benefit from heeding her advice in managing and capitalizing on the gender divide in your own workplace.





Denis Coleman

Denis Coleman is the founder and CEO of Work Compass, a cloud staff performance collaboration software platform that helps teams align their efforts with strategic goals and continuously improve performance. Frustrated with the disconnect between strategy setting and day to day execution and the lack of tools available to managers to help them be great at their most important function …. Aligning their teams activities with strategic goals and actively managing for high performance Denis spent over 5 years researching strategy execution and performance management practices before founding Work Compass to create a software solution. Denis has held senior roles in Ireland, Czech Republic and North America with high performing electronics manufacturing and professional services organisations for more than 12 years. Denis has worked as Finance Director responsible for €800 million in annual revenues for Flextronics International, Key Account Manager responsible for annual revenues of more than €600 million for Dovatron International and Management Consultant for BDO one of Europe’s most successful professional services providers.

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