Top Mistakes Men Make When Managing Women

A company’s culture is typically set by the founders and/or management team.  If a company is founded and led by men (of which the majority are in the technology space), it stands to reason that the culture will reflect that fact.  This can lead to a company culture and management style that (inadvertently) makes mistakes in how women or any minority groups are engaged with.

I have been in technology and leading tech teams for over 18 years.  In that time I have seen many examples of mistakes ranging from well-intentioned but incorrect handing of situations to flagrant and hostile sexism.

Here are some of the top mistakes I see men make when managing women along with some suggestions:

1. Not providing a safe environment.  This does not have to specifically apply to women.    As a manager/leader you have to set the culture and the guidelines for what is acceptable and not on your team.  Screen savers of women in bikinis, having guys call each other female names “in jest” etc. should not be tolerated.  This also includes extremely cutthroat environments, which have also been proven to be less effective.

A Harvard Business Review study from 2008 found that as many as 50% of women working in science, engineering and technology will, over time, leave because of hostile work environments.Click To Tweet

2. Treating women like “One of the guys.” Assuming she is cool with going along with sexist antics or comments. In some cases people will play along and seem “cool with it” but it can cause internal stress and anxiety.

3. Paying them less.  This should be a given.  One thing that I have noticed in giving out hundreds of job offers is that greater than 50% of all the male candidates have negotiated their job offers whereas only a small handful of the women candidates ever did.   

4. Not understanding the needs around pregnancy.  This is an area that a lot of male managers do not understand.  There are specific legal requirements that have to be followed that vary state by state.  If you feel uncomfortable with some of the items like nursing rooms, etc., work with Human Resources to make sure your employees have everything they need.

5. Treating them purposely different.  A good manager should assess each person on the team as an individual and not bucket anyone into a group.  A good manager works with each member of their team to identify their strengths and weaknesses and helps them succeed.  Do not insult anyone on your team by giving “easier” work or preferential treatment.  This can and will backfire.

6. Assuming that they are not technical – This is an example of a “harmless” mistake that men often make. Most of the women that I hire have advanced degrees from top universities.  This “harmless” mistake  can be extremely insulting and causes people to lose trust in you as a manager.

7. Listening to the most vocal person in the room. A lot of male managers make the mistake of assuming that everyone that has an idea will voluntarily share that idea.  In a group situation, sometimes the most outspoken individuals will dominate a conversation.  There could also be a culture of “fighting for your idea.”  In extreme cases people are also hostile to any competing ideas.  It is up to you as a manager to facilitate these conversations and to enforce a culture that ensures everyone on the team is heard. This will help any of the more introverted members of the team as well.

8. Not giving timely accurate feedback. This should apply to everyone. Men tend to be less vocal in general and often have a more negative view towards the “softer side” of management. In some cases they even try to sugarcoat feedback as to not upset women, leading to a complete mismatch of performance expectations.  Give feedback as often as possible and be honest.
This topic can be very polarizing and a lot of people have different opinions.  My advice is to be honest, caring, and to show your team you are trying your best.  Everyone will make mistakes at some point.  If your employees know that you truly are looking out for their best interests they will overlook small mistakes and help you to learn as well.

It is our job as leaders to be understanding and provide a safe and supportive working environment to all of our employees regardless of their gender and cultural background.  This will not happen automatically.  It requires conscious planning and continual engagement & improvement, not only at the executive level but carried out among each and every team in the company.

Caveat: I am obviously not a woman and am not professing to have all the answers.  I am lucky to have worked with many amazing and trusting women who have shared their frustrations with me over the years.  I also have a strong confident wife and three amazing daughters, all of whom have been invaluable in helping me to become a better manager and leader.

Note:  This article was inspired by my shorter answer to a question originally posted to Quora here:

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