Potential & Performance: Intimacy and Bias

There is a place in our reasearch, our reading and our observations where things begin to overlap, to repeat themselves.  It is like that busy intersection that you drive through each day to get to work.  At one point you notice the white Jeep, understanding that you have seen it before.  Then it is the Black X-Terra, with the woman on the phone.  It is familiar and repeating and you wonder when it all came together.

I have been reading articles and research on a number of topics: second generation bias, the gender gap, intimacy, diversity, leadership, education… At times I have thought my reading was too broad, that I had become unfocused, that I was trying to reflect on too many things or write about too many topics.  However, I think I have passed through this intersection before and things are beginning to repeat, to overlap, to inspire a shift in thinking.

busy-intersectionDirty Girls is creating a series of newsletters focused on intimacy.  The word intimacy inspires us to think of romantic relationships but there is a broader definition, one that has a continuum from lovers to employee/employer relationships.  We laid the foundation for this series in a recent blog, Intimacy As we kick off the series, we are beginning with the familiar.  In a DGC Diary entry I shared a failed intimate relationship.  In it I also reference an article in Oprah Magazine Intimacy: His & Hers that talks of how the genders experience intimacy differently.  Women become more intimate when we are able to be ‘face to face’, talking and speaking about our feelings and perceptions.  Men grow in intimacy ‘side by side’, when shared experiences provide a common ground for conversation.  This is one ‘car’ in the intersection.

Sheryl Sandburg’s Lean In is seen by some as the launchpad of gender equity conversations like we have never seen before.  “Men are evaluated on potential; women on performance” is a discussed and debated concept that has risen out of Sheryl’s work.  The idea that in corporate America, that a man is hired, put on a project and even promoted on purely his ‘potential’ facilitates faster career acceleration and more opportunities for promotion.  Women are out there ‘performing’, hoping to get noticed to get hired, put on a project and promoted…and the response is often ‘perform more’ and we’ll see.  Car #2 in the busy intersection.

In a recent YouTube video Wanted: Male Engagement by Jeffrey Tobias Halter , he talks to a group of women Thinkingabout building a momentum to encourage male engagement in the ‘gender bias’ conversation.  Engaging men includes a shift in their thinking on how women experience their workplace and the corporate culture.  In essence we need to help them understand – to have that epiphany – that this isn’t working and that, at the end of the day, only men can choose to fix this issue.  It is a powerful and interesting talk that references the barriers of the corporate ‘man code’, while also sharing the overwhelming business case of macro trends that support doing something about it.  It is a  matter of learning how to communicate, create comfortable conversations, to building relationships and understanding, to creating ‘intimacy’.  Hmmmm, the third car.

As these three learning experiences collide for me, I can’t help but think about how we(men and women) are wired differently and how our worldviews are so different.  We have known forever, certainly since 1992 when Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus was written.  So why don’t we get it?  What is there not to understand?

In my experience as an educator, leader, coach and consultant, I have realized a hard truth.  No one will listen or consider what I have to share if I don’t make a connection, trigger an emotion or build a relationship with them.  And, as the topics become more sensitive and controversial, the deeper the relationship, the more open and available people become.  In essence, learning and communication happen in trusting – yes ‘intimate’ relationships.

male bondingIf we then consider that men and women build and experience intimacy differently, women ‘face to face’ and men ‘side by side’, then wouldn’t it make sense that ‘gender sensitive issues’ would be very difficult to discuss when women are trying to talk about it directly, without having built connectedness with the men that they are trying to influence?  Men are often not ‘available’ to hear it and the level of ‘intimate’ relationship required is not there  to really hear or listen.

And when I revisit the premise that men are evaluated on their potential, women on their performance, it makes sense to me that of course men are comfortable relying on the potential of other men.  Men know men.  They understand them.  They have built ‘intimate relationships’ with male friends and colleagues through golf, watching football, hunting, happy hour… all places where men hang out and do things ‘side by side’.  Men are confident that men can do it.  They have seen it. They have done it together, side by side.

I wonder if when men look at women, if they don’t feel that ‘intimate’ corporate or business relationship/bond/understanding that they naturally experience with other men.  Our male colleagues don’t have the side by side experiences with women, many only knowing women in the context of their personal relationships, in very different types of intimacy.  So they look for performance.  Not because they are consciously thinking ‘she can’t do it’, rather they are looking to spend time ‘side by side’,  building experiences, and  growing their form of intimacy with women in the workplace.

I once had a coaching colleague, who works with C-suite male leaders in large and successful companies struggling with gender equality, share that after several coaching sessions, his epiphany was that he just didn’t know how to lead women, how to engage them.  He knew what to do with men.  His relationship with men was more familiar, deeper, more ‘intimate’.

Thus the intersection continues to be busy and my eyes are peeled. I don’t recognize many of the cars and perhaps some only show up today and have no relationship to the intersection.  I will though, be looking for the Jeep, the X-terra and others that keep showing up.  I have a lot to learn.

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