LTI Seminar: They Just Don't Get It! How to Deal with Gender Differences in the Council Chambers

Article excerpt

Building a council team that works well together is critical. But how do you bring together a diverse group of people and turn them into an effective, well functioning group?

Gender is just one dimension of the diversity challenge, but it can often be the most difficult challenge because of our underlying assumptions.

We don't think of gender differences as mattering much. After all, they shouldn't. And in fact, there are fewer gender differences than we think. Do men and women lead differently? No, not as a group. Do men and women manage differently?

Again, as a group, no they do not. There may be gender-related differences, but they are not gender specific. Do men and women communicate differently? Ahh, here is where the challenge begins.

If you were going to take a trip to a foreign country, where your native language was not the spoken language in that country, you would pay particular attention to your communication. You would choose your words carefully; you would work to learn the cultural nuances that might influence how you were understood, and how you understand others.

You would expect some miscommunication, and you would probably be more patient in your own communication. When conversational styles differ, as they do in foreign countries, or between men and women, this conclusion can lead to misinterpretation, misjudgment and miscommunication.

How does this play out in Council Chambers?

Women say that they often feel dismissed or tested, always needing to prove their competence and worth. Research shows that women are continually interrupted and/or dismissed in public, in boardrooms and in general gender-mixed discussions.

Women say that when they raise a point or make an issue, they are ignored, but when a male councilmember restates it, everyone pays attention.

When women are dismissed and tested in such a way, they find themselves questioning or even changing their own authentic style and emulating those who don't get dismissed and are rarely tested.

For the most part, these are men, or women who act like men. This puts women in a `no win' situation, because now they are labeled as a `barracuda', `dragon lady' or worse. Finally, women often find themselves excluded and avoided and seen as "tokens."

Things aren't completely rosy for men either. While the majority of elected officials are men, they face specific challenges as well. …