For the first several years of working as a professional diversity trainer and facilitator, I would chuckle to myself when I heard a man in our workshops say “I don’t get women,” “Women are so complex,” and “Women’s behavior is so unpredictable!” At first, I found these comments to be humorous. But after a while, I realized that I was feeling more angry than amused whenever I heard a comment about women’s “supposedly inherent” unpredictability, and complexity.
So one day, I started asking these men to help me understand how their beliefs about women came to exist. Their responses were often about individual experiences with women in their personal lives. The stories they told had not provided the men much insight into the women’s behavior, nor did they include much information volunteered by the women themselves about their realities.
After hearing this, I began to ask them, “What do you spend your time on?”
Their replies included “work, my investments, coaching little league, and golf.” Others responded with a variety of sports interests, watch, and cigar collecting, auto mechanics and racing, travel, athletic training and participation in several different hobbies. When I asked them to explain to me about their work, or hobby, or cigars, or watches, or cars, or baseball (etc., etc., etc.), I was amazed with the vast amount of knowledge that they had about all of these topics.
So I then I asked them how much time they spent talking to their wives, daughters, sisters, or mothers discussing “women’s issues” or asking them about things that really matter to them?
The response was usually a blank stare. This was usually followed by a confused response of “Why would I want to do THAT?”
Now keep in mind that I am not a nuclear physicist, nor have I ever taken an advanced calculus class. But even in my simple mind, it seemed to me, that the issue being presented by these men was not that women were overly complex or unpredictable, but rather that the men had spent very little time trying to learn about or understand women.
It seemed to me that these men were quite proficient at understanding what they had invested time and energy in. And, if they had really wanted to understand women, they could start by investing in the women with whom they were closest to!
Because, in my experience, sincere interest in others tends to build trust with others. Spending time and energy on others causes them to feel valued and cared for, which in turn causes most people to engage in the relationship at a deeper level. And engagement leads to better performance and stronger productivity – no matter what the project is that you are engaged in!
I have spent 20 years in the Diversity & Inclusion area, teaching, coaching, and role modeling for others what a productive, effective business relationship looks like. My work has caused me to confront differences of all kinds – not only gender (as the example I used above), but also race, language, religion, thinking style, work style, personality, and educational level.
My work has taught me the importance of this and taught me if you want to build strong working relationships, you must personally invest!