Men Should Stop Trying to 'Fix' Women at Work

11/15/2010 07:01 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Marcia Reynolds Author, 'Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction'

I read an article this week written by a male executive claiming that women derail themselves on the career ladder by demanding flexible work hours. I was so disgusted by the statement that I immediately deleted the link, so I can't share it with you.

It's not just that the man was saying that women need to commit to their work, as if they aren't committed when they ask for flexible schedules. The aversion I felt was due to the man focusing his remarks on women. Last year, USA Today reported a significant increase in men feeling conflicted over the work-life balance issue and wanting more time to spend with their families. The executive's statement stereotyped women and their priorities.

First, who says we are demanding more control over our time only because we have to pick up the kids at school? Many people work better under pressure from home. Many people work better when some of their time is spent on other pursuits besides work. Some of us know that maintaining regular exercise schedules strengthen our minds as well as our bodies. And the brain needs recovery time between intense periods of work to operate most efficiently and to produce creative ideas.

With our gloomy economy, isn't it clear that old leadership styles and work methods are inefficient and sometimes outright disastrous? Maybe underhanded practices got us where we are, but the failure of our corporate leaders to open their minds and innovate will only prolong the pain. Adding flexibility to work schedules could mean more productivity, not less.

We need to infuse life into our corporate cultures. We need different perspectives and styles in leadership. We need more women in decision-making roles and men who don't believe in the old models where power equals dominance, control and obsessively thinking about work.

Therefore, even if it seems like career suicide, I would love for both women and progressive men to stand up to the leaders who feel they have to "fix" their workers and teams. If we speak the same message, our unity can make a difference.

I recently pushed back against the request from an executive client to teach one of his teams how to make better decisions. He felt that he knew what the team needed and wanted me to go in and "fix" them. I felt that the team members were smart enough to tell me what they needed to reach their goals. When I asked them, their game plan for making better decisions included both changes in their structure as well as how they were given priorities from the senior management team.

Senior leaders need to listen to what we need to perform better. And we need to be clear about what we need so we can ask for it straightforwardly and with good reason:

  • If you and your work group feel that you have been given conflicting priorities, write them down and demonstrate how they conflict. Then ask for clarification so that you can meet your goals together instead of in conflict.
  • If you know that you can meet your deadlines well or ahead of schedule with a flexible work plan, lay out the schedule and how you will report your progress so that you are presenting a plan, not a request for time off.
  • If you need a broader company or global perspective to make better decisions, ask specifically for what you need before you are judged as being inexperienced.
  • Don't accept a women's leadership program as a sign of change. It could be another "fix-it" program in disguise and a nail in the women's box of stereotypes. Does it really fill in for what men are getting in your organization in the forms of mentoring, sponsorship, and executive leadership skills? Only support programs that truly level the playing field or elevate the field for all. If succession planning is lacking in your company, then this program should be for men, too.

In this time of crisis, grassroots efforts stand a chance of making a difference. You don't need to be fixed. You need to be heard. Share this post with both women and men so you can create a united voice for positive change.

Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D., is president of Covisioning, a leadership coaching and training organization working with a variety of people and organizations around the world to make better decisions, strengthen their relationships, and better collaborate for amazing results.