The Seven Most Asked Questions about Gender Communication

Haven't things changed?

Posted Jan 28, 2014

Haven’t we given enough attention to this gender problem at home and at work? Aren’t we beating a dead horse?

I’m here to tell you that with years of consciousness-raising, coupled with my work as a consultant and trainer in gender issues in corporate America, I can attest to the fact that old attitudes are pretty firmly entrenched. In fact, my audiences, large and small, still ask me the same few questions (which I will address in the next few blogs):

  • How did men and women acquire their communication styles? Aren’t we just born that way; did we learn it? Is it nature or nurture?
  • Which communication style is better, male or female?
  • Is gender really that important in defining the way people interact with each other?
  • Can men and women learn to change and adapt their styles? Haven’t we been this way forever? How do you expect us to change?
  • Are there individual differences as well as gender differences? 
  • Who acts as though they’re responsible for effective gender communication, women or men?
  • Haven’t things changed in gender relationships?

This last question is most telling. 

Tom, an executive at a factory location of Lucent Technologies, recently said to me, “When I began here as an engineer thirty years ago, there wasn’t a single woman in my department. Now a woman heads it. Women are everywhere. Things have changed!”

I have to admit that he has a point. Thirty years ago, it was easier to identify inequities between men and women because there were far fewer females in the workplace, especially in senior positions. And it is true that women comprise 46% of the workforce, and according to the most recent Census Bureau Statistics conducted in 2009, nearly 4 in 10 working wives out earned their husbands—an increase of more than 50% from 20 years before. The percentage of managers who are women has risen from 35% to 38% in the past 20 years as well. Finally, 60% of college graduates are women—our future labor pool. However, the wage gap still persists: Women working full-time earn a median wage that is 81% of what men make. Women seem to be everywhere. Moreover, we all know how we’re supposed to behave now. Overtly, it seems as if we’ve altered our actions to meet the new requirements of corporate America, which often has zero tolerance toward any communication inequities such as ignoring women, hoarding power and information, or excluding them from the Good Old Boy networks. 

But Tom mistakenly equates the larger number of women holding jobs with equitable treatment. Just because there are more professional and working women doesn’t yet mean that they have arrived or that attitudes toward them have changed.

*Parts of this blog were excerpted from Audrey's book, You Don't Say: Navigating Nonverbal Communication Between the Sexes (Prentice Hall 2004) and Time (March 24, 2012),

"Women, Money and Power."