Men And Women – Compete Or Co-operate?

I’ve thinking alot about the response to my posting “Men and Women Are Different….”. I was delighted to receive Tom Downing’s comment. And he has a point. This is what he said,

What about the ’shadow networks’ that women form? The ones the men (that’s me) never really know about, understand or intersect with? I was reminded of this when a (female) colleague (I’d never dare call her Kiddo) came back from a meeting with a comment along the lines of ‘that was the most exciting meeting I’ve been to in a long time. We were all women and the way we related to each other and worked on the topic was so exciting!’ The topic was not women or gender, but something that men work on too. What are men missing? Tom

Hmm, what are men missing?

I’m Regional Director of The Athena Network a businesswomen’s networking organisation. Because I feel strongly about developing friendships internationally, I set up a connection with a businesswomen’s networking group in Bonn (twinned with Oxford). At the reception those wonderfully generous German ladies held for us on our first visit in the summer of 2008, overlooking the magnificent Rhine and the 7 Hills, I told a story. I said,

“When I was a little girl, I grew up in a boy’s school. In the 1950’s (when I was growing up) the favourite game amongst the boys was Germans Against The English! Naturally enough in the game, the boys all competed to be on the winning side, and we all know which side that was! They picked up sticks and pointed them and pretended to machine gun the opposition. Me, being a girl represented the German army!

We women look to make connections, we look to co-operate, to try to form a bond, a relationship. May our way of doing things be the one that prevails in the 21st century!”
These ‘shadow networks’ that Tom mentions are gestures of support and understanding. The world of business is still dominated by men and the male way of doing things. We women have learnt to adapt – to become succinct in delivery, to push forward, to compete, to self publicise. Though this is adaptive behaviour. And it is stressful since it doesn’t come naturally (please forgive me if I generalise here). In my experience as a mother for instance, I found the instinct to be receptive, inclusive and protective is very compelling.

When we are with other women, we tend to defer to each other, we give a support to someone new or looking nervous, we are protective and helpful and we attempt to make something together rather than look for individual achievement. The end result can be, that the purpose of what we are doing (and in the case of an Athena meeting, the business!) gets obscured since we are focused on the relationships – I like you, you like me, us together. And if someone stands out it can be uncomfortable for the group until they assimilate her into the identity of the group. The ‘shadow networks’ that Tom talks about are ways we women signal to reassert the identity of the relationship, the connection. Something men (unless discerning men such as Tom) might miss.

Your comments, please!


About anrah

Anrah is a business development consultancy specialising in helping senior women in engineering and science, their teams and doctoral students increase 'presence', improve communication and generate impact to win stakeholder buy-in at the highest level.
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