seX & whY Episode 6: New Rules for Women

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Show Notes for Podcast Six of Sex & Why

Hosts: Jeannette Wolfe and Dr. Anne Litwin PhD

Topic: New Rules for Women

In this episode, Dr. Anne Litwin PhD joined me to discuss the findings of her book New Rules for Women. This book highlights the results of her extensive research on the challenges women can face when working with other women in a professional environment. Dr. Litwin, through her in-depth interviews of women across the globe and working in different industries, began to notice a pattern of expectations or so called “friendship rules” that women often carry into the workplace and innocently set them up for inevitable conflict.

The key components of the rules are as follows:

  • Equality
  • Loyalty
  • Listening
  • Sharing Confidences

The real kicker, however, is that it is actually considered taboo to talk about them.  Litwin claims that as these rules are so deeply ingrained into females as young girls, that by the time they enter the workplace they are simply assumed truths.

These rules set up a catch 22 as the very nature of most work environments is competitive and hierarchical. As such, women may often find themselves in positions in which they are not “equal” and not able to unconditionally back each other up. The result is that the friendship rules will predictably get broken and if unchecked, potentially leave women feeling unsupported, backstabbed or disillusioned with other women.

Fortunately, there are a few suggestions to better manage these relationships.

  • Break the taboo and actual talk about the inevitable catch 22 of women working together.
  • Make a commitment to resist the temptation of indirect aggression and agree to handle conflict in a direct fashion.

Some suggested wordsmithing:

you are a strong woman and I want to support you, there are going to be times when due to our different job descriptions that we will inevitably face conflict, I ask that when this happens that we agree to work through them in a professional respectful manner so that we can continue to support each other and do our jobs to the best of our abilities.”

as we have different roles, there are going to be times in which I am going to have to put on my “professional” hat to do my expected job. To avoid confusion or misunderstanding, I will try and be as transparent as possible when I need to adopt that role.”

  • Pre-empt anticipated conflict such as:
    • competition for promotion
    • predicted disagreement during meeting
    • hierarchical roles on a team under stress

Try to discuss expectations up front and identify new ways, understanding the above constraints, in which you can continue to support each other.

  • Recognize and address blooming dysfunction early on (though it is usually helpful to wait until the emotional sting of a situation has passed). This helps to avoid the “stockpiling” of perceived wrongs and to hopefully realign the relationship.
  • Double check perceptions, it is possible that a woman may be acting in a way that is constrained by an organizational system and not necessarily their preferred choice.
  • In teams, be clear about the shared goals of the team and delineate specific ways in which members of the team are expected to behave and communicate to fulfill these goals.

Resources
Anne Litwin’s New Rules for Women
Joyce Benenson’s Warriors and Worriers
Douglas Stone’s Thanks for the Feedback

Check out my “X- the Skidmark Talk” from the archives of the 2017 Feminem FIX national meeting.

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