A friend of ours – a young man – shared this experience with us:
During a job interview, he was asked whether women employees were better than men. He was caught off-guard and took it as a trick question since his interviewers were both women. He answered that it was difficult to tell. That it depended on the job description and the responsibilities that came with the job. His interviewers weren’t satisfied with this and insisted on an answer: Were women employees better or worse than their male colleagues?
Put to the test, the young man was clearly uncomfortable; but suggested that he could, perhaps, state in what respects he considered women employees to be better than men. His interviewers accepted this proposition as a suitable alternative to their question and so the young man rattled off (a) women don’t bring their egos into their work like men do and pick fights with each other; (b) women are more compassionate than men in dealing with conflict; and (c) women can handle failure more maturely than men.
At that time he had no idea if his answer had hit the mark. But later, upon learning that he had been selected for the job, he met up with his interviewers and, in a lighter moment, quizzed them. He had to know whether his answer to that question had fit the response expected. Unfortunately, till this day, he is still in the dark as to whether his answer was the right one. All he was told was that his answer was ‘sensible’ and that, though uncomfortable, he did not seem to be provoked by the question. That, temperament-wise, he was okay in the books of his interviewers as far as the job role mandated.
Although this news was heartening, the situation had him thinking: If men aren’t comfortable answering questions about their women colleagues, how comfortable can men be in dealing with, or managing, them on a day-to-day basis? Or, as managers, in appraising them or mentoring them when the time comes? What’s more, he wondered, would women managers be as sensitive to women employees as male managers are expected to be?
That’s not all. Many more questions dogged his mind: Are women employees different from their male colleagues (in spite of his off-the-cuff answer at the interview)? Do women employees really bring anything special to the job which their male colleagues can’t, or don’t? Do women employees need different ways of managing or mentoring? And, of course, are women employees better than men?
As an executive search firm, we are often asked these questions during our discussions with our clients. It’s not easy answering them – nor are there definite answers to them. Globally, HR managers and consultants, executive search firms and academicians are conducting research to study and discover the mysteries of gender differences and performance in the workplace. This is a subject that interests us too and we plan publish many more articles on it over the year.
Although there doesn’t seem to be concrete evidence supporting the fact that men perform better than women in the workplace, there is evidence that, in general (a) there are fewer women at the top than men, (b) fewer women are considered for advancement in corporate positions than their male counterparts, (c) women earn lower salaries than men for the same jobs they perform, (d) more women feel discriminated against in the workplace than men do, and (e) women pay a higher price for success in balancing their life and work.