Guys, if you want to be a good boss or colleague for a woman, call her by her actual name. It’s not “dear,” or “sweetie” (or “young lady”). Nor is giving her a nickname – usually a diminutive – a substitute. A respectful stance extends to abiding by what she chooses to be called if she gets married. If you don’t like her choice, don’t try to improve it.
That’s Rule 1 in Kate Eberle Walker’s guide for men to be a better boss, and if it seems obvious to you please accept that the reason it’s on top of the PresenceLearning CEO’s list of nine rules is many men unknowingly create deep wounds by ignoring it. Even Barack Obama violated it when he commented about a reporter, “This sweetie never did get an answer to that question.” Perhaps you have slipped (or blundered) as well. Certainly Ms. Walker has lots of examples.
Most women have male bosses. And the vast majority of those men, she stresses, have good intentions. “They mean well but they don’t always get it right,” she writes in her book The Good Boss.
Here’s another rule: Don’t ask what her husband does. That may seem unfair since it follows a rule urging you to be someone she can relate to – be authentic, and connect (without taking on the role of father or boyfriend). But often the question is not innocent: It’s an attempt to figure out her career ambition, since a common belief is that when a woman marries her career becomes discretionary. It can start when a male boss sees an engagement ring and starts calculating the possibilities of losing his staffer.
“She works because she wants to. She cares about being financially independent. She wants to be paid what she’s worth, not what you think she needs. She’s not necessarily planning to have children, and if she is, it may be a long way off,” advises Ms. Walker.
Another rule is “don’t sit in her chair” – specifically on the day when she returns from maternity leave, as happened once to Ms. Walker. The first day back was tough enough without finding a squatter in her office, nonchalantly mentioning that she could use his former, lesser digs.
And it’s not just the physical workspace: While others have taken on the woman’s responsibilities while she was away, make sure they don’t permanently steal key aspects of her job. Ms. Walker notes that when a woman returns to work she is worried that she is no longer needed in the office and has been given many reasons to stay at home so she needs to feel there are reasons to be back. Treat her like you would somebody newly on-boarded: Get in early on the first morning so that you can be present to welcome her back.
And watch the clock later in the day. She has responsibilities beyond the office. Again Ms. Walker has a horrific description of when she got suddenly summoned to a late-afternoon meeting that threatened her ability to be home before the nanny left – and that was even before the meeting got postponed to later, with nobody other than her minding. Respect a parent’s schedule. She is likely to be tightly timed toward the end of the day and often needs advance warning to stay late.
Other rules to keep in mind: Speak up when something inappropriate is said so she doesn’t have to. Don’t make her ask twice (or three or four times) for a raise or something else she needs, since women are less willing to be aggressive on that score. If you are a jerk at times, be an equal opportunity jerk – tough on men as well as women. And finally, tell her you see her potential, perhaps the greatest hallmark of a good boss or colleague.
- Decision-making advice from author James Clear: The sooner you make a choice, the sooner you can make an adjustment.
- Here are some powerful words to spice up your resume, from financial coach Ryan Luke: Achieved, improved, launched, under budget, and created.
- Taking a break between meetings doesn’t have to mean unplugging. Journalist Alexandra Samuels recommends YouTube Karaoke: “Fire up the music, close the door if you’re self-conscious about being heard, and belt your heart out for a few minutes.”
- Here’s a startling number about self-talk: You say the equivalent of 4,000 words to yourself every minute, according to Ethan Kross, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Michigan and author of the book Chatter.
- Research shows equality advocates are prone to prejudice against older adults at work, in part seeing them as blocking advance for women and racial minorities.
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