Is there a difference in how men and women respond to challenges?

Some of my weekend was spent inside a meeting room of a Melbourne hotel. I was involved in a strategic forum and we were on the hunt for strategic elephants. In the process of identifying them I noticed another elephant in the room.

At first I thought it was in the difference in behaviour across gender. We were discussing our approach to getting things done. The two men at my table suggested we needed to be more aggressive in our corporate behaviour. While everyone agreed that we were generally perceived as being "too nice", a woman at another table offered that it would be good to be more aggressive but that we should consider how we do that. "We need to be careful," she cautioned.

Classic male-female responses, I thought to myself. The men shared a glance that told me they were used to getting what they want -- and how they want -- without that litte step in between. Or perhaps they know how to be aggressive with a smile.I wondered then if the organisation's perceived niceness was to do with it's majority female gender split of employees and leadership. These were incredibly capable, but also extremely nice, people.

The two men were new to this biannual strategic forum which I have been attending for five years. When we broke off into smaller working groups they identified me as a "stirrer". I wondered about the term. As I wasn't previously known to them I can only assume they were describing me that way because I offered ideas to my small group that challenged the status quo. But then so did they. So was it because I was a woman with ideas? Either way I took it to be a positive statement because I believe that in any strategic forum the goal should be to tease out alternate thinking. I hoped I wasn't alone in that.

While I was deep in thought, one of the newer female attendees spoke up to the entire group and questioned, quite firmly, a key part of the overall strategy. Ten minutes later another new female attendee voiced her concern about another issue. Their approach was not the usual "carefully worded to avoid offending anyone" softly, softly approach. They were tooting horns. It was significantly different behaviour for me to notice and note it. I wasn't alone.

It wasn't a difference in behaviour between genders that I witnessed. It was actually old versus new. And I am not referring to age. The people in the room, myself included, who had been there for some years were noticeably less vocal to the entire group than the first-time attendees. It was a small sample of evidence to support the theory that changing up teams by mixing in new people with fresh thinking, and for whom the goggles haven't started to fog up, is critical for progress in an organisation.

The organisation is on a solid path and will definitely reach its destination, but I believe that fresh enthusiasm, vigour and additional rigour will offer much to the journey.

Has this been your experience? Do you find that it has less to do with gender and more to do with fresh eyes?

Marina Go

Marina Go is Chair of the Wests Tigers NRL Club, a non-executive director of Autosports Group and author of the business book for women, Break Through: 20 Success Strategies for Female Leaders. She was previously GM of Hearst Australia at Bauer Media. Boss magazine named her as one of 20 True Leaders of 2016.  Marina has over 25 years of leadership experience in the media industry, having started her career as a journalist. She was appointed Editor of Dolly magazine at the age of 23, before spending the next decade editing a number of leading women's magazines. She has held senior leadership roles at Fairfax, Pacific, Emap, Bauer and Private Media, where she was CEO and founder of the career website Women’s Agenda.  

She is a director of digital startup Daily Siren, and also a member of the Advisory Boards of the Walkley Foundation, The Australian Republican Movement and Women’s Agenda. She is a former director of Netball Australia, Odyssey House,  Sydney Symphony Vanguard and The Apparel Group. She lectures on digital media at the University of Technology, Sydney, is a Mentor with the Women In Media and NRL Women programs and a UNSW Alumni Leader and Ambassador. She has an MBA from The Australian Graduate School of Management, a BA (Mass Communications) from Macquarie University and is a member of the AICD. She is a mother of two young men and passionate about diversity and equality. 

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