Gender & Competition: How Men & Women Approach Work & Play Differently

The introduction for Kathleen DeBoer at today’s January Series lecture (Gender & Competition: How Men & Women Approach Work & Play Differently) had me a little worried. Before working in local government, Ms. DeBoer had a relatively high-profile career in the world of sports and the thought of sitting for an hour hearing tales from the field left this non-sportsman a little concerned. But while there were many, many stories from that world, she is a dynamic enough speaker and grounded enough to spin a presentation that I could identify with.

A self-deprecating photo display looking at the cliched roles she has embodied helped introduce the sense of humour and dynamic presentation we were to expect, to the degree that she was able to introduce gender stereotypes (for the sake of argument rather than arguing for their accuracy) without offending. The thrust of her argument seemed to be that not only does an understanding of our personal biases—both socialised and genetic—help us interact with others, but it is also essential as organisational management heads towards a more network-driven model.

As DeBoer laid out images of two stereotyped ‘networking’ events (one all-female, one all-male), describing the differing competitive patterns of the two genders (male=self-congratulatory, female=self-deprecating) I did wonder what those events would look like if the conversational approach was more other-affirming than self-promoting. Clearly that would interfere with the traditional purpose of such events, but it stayed with me as we left.

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