5 Major Differences Between Men and Women at Work

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The She Is series recaps content covered at the Red Ventures Women’s Summit, a 2-day event designed to help our community of female leaders connect, engage and grow. Highlights from the Summit included leadership workshops, breakout sessions and keynotes from some of the most influential women in the country.

Some of the most insightful research pertaining to gender issues and differences in the workplace comes from CEO of The Heim Group and best-selling author, Dr. Pat Heim. Over the course of her career, Dr. Heim has extensively studied behavior in children, including the messages they receive during their critical development years, as well as other factors that may later influence behavior as adults.

One key insight from these studies was this: Boys more often – and at earlier ages – participate in team sports, while young girls more often take part in what we refer to as “process play” or “relationship play.” These types of activities, things like playing house, nurse, school, etc., don’t have a beginning or end, nor a winner or a loser.

In terms of the messages received and lessons learned from these various types of activities, here are a few of her findings:

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It’s clear that both columns offer unique qualities that add value in the workplace. RV Leadership Advisor Shannon McFayden broke down Dr. Heim’s research further at the 2015 She Is Women’s Leadership Summit and explains how differences between men and women influence the way we work:

5. Hierarchies vs. Relationships

Men tend to view the world through a lens of hierarchy, with respect and value placed on authority and following orders. Men are more comfortable operating in well-defined territories where there’s clarity about which voices hold how much authority. A structure where the goal is “get more territory.”

Meanwhile, women learned not to view the world in hierarchies, but instead in a series of concentric flat circles based on relationships and a common understanding of a shared goal. Within those flat structures, women find themselves attempting to create a level playing field ensuring everyone is treated fairly, everyone has a seat at the table and everyone’s voices are heard — regardless of position, experience and level of authority.

4. Goals vs. Processes

Women and men attack projects and problems differently. Men are more goal-focused while women are more process-focused. Men are better motivated by having a clear goal ,and they’re highly energized by attaining that goal. The more unattainable, the more motivating it is to get there. Women are more motivated by what goes into the process of getting there. The path to get there is so much more exciting than the actual end itself.


Watch Shannon’s full speech from the Summit here.

3. Authority vs. Engagement

Men sort through options internally before offering a solution. They feel it’s important to figure things out for themselves; because of the framework of authority through which they see the world. It is important to them to be the one with the answers. Women explore externally before offering a solution; they seek input from others because there is no threat of loss of authority and they get more engagement in the process.

2. Team Players vs. Team Play

To men, “being a good team player is knowing your position and playing it well,” by following orders, supporting the leader, doing what the leader asks you to do even if you don’t agree with it. To women, “being a good team player means helping all of my colleagues with what they need to get done even if they don’t ask for help.” Team play is sharing ideas, listening to each other especially if there is disagreement, working together collaboratively and jumping in to help when someone needs it.

1. Attribution of Success

According to Heim’s studies, when men succeed, their natural inclination is to point inward and attribute it to their own skills, talent and hard work. They are not afraid to own their competence. When they fail, they’re more likely to point outward. Circumstances outside of their control either caused or at least contributed to their failure. Bad timing, bad luck.

Women tend to do the opposite. When we succeed, we point outward. “I had a great team, I was lucky, I was in the right place at the right time.” We have a very difficult time owning our own competence. When we fail, we point internally. “I’m not smart enough.” “I didn’t work hard enough.”


The bottom line is this: Men and women’s behavior in the workplace is fundamentally — and biologically — different. Women don’t need to compromise their natural tendencies and authentic voices or behave more like men to be successful in the business world. Instead, the solution is the opposite: Adding female voices to senior-level conversations in an organization unlocks diverse ways of thinking, management styles and approaches to problem-solving.

When we encourage women to lead with their strengths, and encourage men to embrace diverse views, we capitalize on gender differences in the workplace and create better, stronger organizations.


Shannon McFayden has been with Red Ventures since 2010 as a trusted advisor on leadership effectiveness, talent management and company culture. Before coming to RV, Shannon was Vice President and Head of Human Resources & Corporate Relations for Wachovia Corporation. She’s been named one of the “25 Most Powerful Women in Banking” by US Banker and has invested more than 30 years in helping leaders and organization drive results.

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