Gender and Organizational Communication

Geometry and Mathematics work together

clip from Marten de Vos: Geometry and Mathematics work together

Here is a short handout on “Gender and Collaboration in Professional Communication” that I provided to participants of a business breakfast in 2007.  It has my findings from research and experience boiled down into tips for women and men.

Context:  Last year, March 2007, I was invited to speak on a panel at a Deloitte & Touche women’s network breakfast at the posh Palliser Hotel in Calgary. What an experience, sitting next to some important women leaders, Shelley Youngblut (editor of Swerve magazine) and Bonnie DuPont (VP of Enbridge; on the Bank of Canada board of directors).

Despite being quite intimidated, it went very well; I made several important contacts and hopefully inspired people to work and learn collaboratively.

Gender and Collaboration in Professional Communication
Insights and Advice from Dr. Tania Smith, Assistant Professor

  • Gender does not always unify people. Two women may be far more different from each other than a particular man and woman with similar characteristics and values.
  • When choosing team members and colleagues for joint projects, focus on people’s talents, knowledge, and personal values first, and then consider gaining a variety of gender and cultural background. Try to form a team that includes people from several different departments and levels in the institutional hierarchy so that you can discover new resources and information rather than just re-circulating ideas and concerns common to a group.
  • People with obvious symbols of social power and respect (gender, age, clothing, employment status) can win more respect by humbling themselves. People who lack one or more symbols of power and respect often need to be more up-front about their qualifications and confident in their demeanor.
  • Sometimes roles that appear to be marginal, lower status, or limited actually hold great opportunities for learning and influence. Sometimes social and institutional power limits your level of influence and access to important information.
  • If you do hold influence, use it to empower people who are less powerful than you, or to welcome people new to your organization, or people who seem like social or professional outsiders, and you will develop a strong mutual support system and learn new things.
  • Invest even 5% of your time on improving the morale and social cohesion of your workplace and it will pay off tenfold in productivity and innovation.
  • You can build community and learn better in three-way collaborative partnerships than in two-way partnerships.
  • If you want to build a bridge between you and someone else who is different from yourself, invite them to begin a service project with you that you both care about, and collaborate with them in designing your approach toward the project. In other words, serve something or someone else together.
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