From Bell bottoms to Khakis – Managing the Generation Mix –
Cleavage at Work? A New Dress Code for Professional Women

Audrey’s Sound Bites Series

Women are a socially subordinate group, and this power-down position has forced women to acquire certain nonverbal (and verbal) skills. Historically, you can see this kind of adaptation in other societies and cultures, and even within different subcultures in the United States.
Women had to learn to become reliant on nonverbal behavior, both sending and receiving it. Women needed to pay attention to the moods, likes, dislikes, emotions, and reactions of the dominant group that is, men almost as a survival instinct, hence the concepts of “women’s intuition” and “womanly wiles.”
The ability to decode nonverbal cues is ultimately valuable and essential for effective communication. So women must ask themselves, how can we use these skills to enhance our effectiveness instead of letting them divert us? Women must not focus on others for a definition of what is “normal” or acceptable behavior; they must define it for themselves. This ability can be a gift. Use it as such.
Women, practice this mantra: trust your inner knowledge, your intuition, that gut feeling. It might be more than just a hunch.

  • Daniel Goleman calls it the “politics of empathy” in his book Working with Emotional Intelligence. Those with little power have the “expectation that they sense the feelings of those who hold power,” says Goleman.
  • PONS test
  • Why is the ability to read nonverbal cues so important? How does it figure into the communication process?
  • Women prefer to stand directly facing people so she can see facial expressions. How does this figure into her ability to read feelings?
What’s Behind Women’s Intuition?


  • Audrey is a long-distance altitude hiker.
  • Single most critical skill to her success on the trail is endurance.
  • physical endurance has to do with emotional endurance
  •  the ability to keep up, hold your own, understand your limits, and keep going is a metaphor for our emotional behavior at work.
  • there are ups and downs in our work life and home life.
  • We all make mistakes at work, lose a client, or screw up an order.
  • Successful women don’t let their emotions dictate their behavior.
  • They are pragmatic and think about the big picture, such as “I have to work with this jerk on this project for the next year, so I’d better learn how to get along with him.” Successful women keep their emotions in check in order to enhance their career.
  • Emotional endurance requires resiliency.
  • When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
  •  A resilient woman knows that the best antidote to despair is action.
  • She does not retreat in the face of adversity.
  • Women can rise above the “ain’t it awful?” people and the negativity that often arises when an organization is experiencing rough times.
  • See above it and down the road.
  • Resiliency is most crucial in the face of failure and disappointment.
  • Maintaining a positive attitude and putting a crisis in its place is key. This is a gift that your organization will find priceless and that, incidentally, often impacts the bottom line.
  • Remember, your ability to do a good job at work comes from inside.
  • Even if the external structure where you express your work ethic and skills is struggling, it does not define you.
  • They refused to be defined by the environment around them, and they even used their personal skills to comfort themselves and others when the environment around them was in chaos. That’s valuable. That’s resilience.

Unsinkable Molly Brown
Fisherman who fell over board

Women and Emotional Endurance at Work


Lakoff (1990) coined the term tag question . A brief examination of the anatomy of a question is warranted by examining how a statement, question, and tag question compare. Here is an example of the distinction between the 3 forms of speech:
Statement: I need the report tomorrow.
Question: Will the report be ready tomorrow?
Tag question: I need the report tomorrow. Can you do it?
Lakoff (1994) suggests that asking questions shows women’s insecurity and hesitancy in communication. Women’s speech is said to be more polite and considerate — the tag question is a case in point. It does not force agreement but rather is solicitous and democratic. However, the tag question can become a sort of Pandora’s box. Now she has opened up the potential for denial of the request. Is there a place for the tag question? Yes, when a woman wants to hear another opinion or input. Are there situations when a tag question may be inappropriate? Yes, when there are no ifs, ands, or buts and something must get done, or if the woman has a strong opinion or perspective. For women, potentially the tag question can become a burden because it is vague. In the final evaluation, women should ask, “ What is my goal?”

  • Men speak in declarative sentences
  • Women may open Pandora’s Box
  • Women incorporate more polite forms of speech
  • Women’s speech can be confusing
  • Being assertive and direct may be risky for her.
The Trick Question ;

Listening is a part of the female job description and the key component in facilitating interpersonal relationships. The famous horse behavioral expert Monty Roberts’ has made observations of an alpha mare meting out discipline to a herd of wild mustangs. He noticed that the mare, when confronting a renegade and abusive young stallion colt, held one ear forward and one back, as if she’d divided her attention. The ear facing backward was aimed at the rest of the herd and especially at a young foal this colt had just kicked. The forward ear was trained on the “bad boy” colt. I believe this is analogous to the split or double ear we observe among women. Human females have the ability to “listen with two ears.” At any one time, they may be paying attention on two or more disparate levels.
A woman hears the verbal message just as a man would, but she is also reading between the lines to intercept feelings. That’s her socio-emotional ear. She evaluates facial expressions, voice, gestures, and posture-the whole repertoire of nonverbal behavior-and draws conclusions from these, as well as from the other person’s words. Women’s ability to manage the flow interaction, to really listen and hear what people say, and to gather information from others in a non-threatening way is a strength and a part of the social maintenance women perform on a daily basis. Certainly in the work world, most consider the participation of subordinates as essential to the effective influencing of staff. But we also observe this skill every night at the dinner table, where a woman attempts to regulate the flow of conversation to include her most reticent child and restrain her most precociously verbal child from dominating the conversation!
Women and the Split-Ear Advantage

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

  • 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?
The Most Asked Questions About Gender Communication

This is a simple and informative paradigm that helps to organize the primary ways men and women communicate. Men and women communicate both verbally and nonverbally in very different styles.

Men                                          Women
Direct                                        Indirect
Goal                                          Process
Independent                           Interdependent
Content                                    Feeling
Self                                            Other

A Paradigm for Understanding How Men and Women Communicate

A technique employed by women more than men is the use of qualifiers.
Just say it; don ’t qualify it! Another technique employed by women more than men is the use of qualifiers. Here are some common qualifiers (in italics) used by women:
Well, no.
I was thinking, we could leave at 2 P.M.
It’s time to go, I guess.
It seems to me that is a good idea.
I wonder if we should pursue that contract.
Employing qualifiers is a way that women counterbalance being direct. Again, this linguistic strategy could be argued to serve as a technique allowing for input and consideration of other ideas. However, if the woman feels definite and does not want to appear tentative on an issue, she should eliminate the qualifier. Let me introduce you to my disclaimer: the ultimate mitigation.
Women often employ disclaimers in introductory remarks. Research has identified various types of disclaimers that serve different functions:
1. Suspending judgment. Function: Ward off emotional judgment.  “ I don’t want you to get angry, but . . . ”
2. Cognitive disclaimers. Function: Avoid disbelief or suspicions of poor judgment. “ This may not make sense . . . ”
3. Credentialing. Function: Identify special attributes of the speaker when the anticipated reaction may be negative. “ Some of my closest contacts are Japanese, but . . . ”
4. Hedging. Function: Speaker is not adamant about their point. “ I could be wrong, but . . . ” (Eakins & Eakins, 1978 , p. 45).
One could argue that disclaimers could be viewed as verbal strategies to mitigate possible negative reactions to what a woman says. But the flip side of this strategy is that disclaimers can weaken women ’ s speech. Why should a woman put herself down? When women need to take a firm stand, minimal or no use of disclaimers is advisable.

Don’t Qualify it! Just Say it!

We know conflict is inevitable. It is a natural, normal part of life. Where there are relationships, there will be conflict. A critical component of successful male-female relationships is the ability of the couple or coworkers to handle conflict, whether it is in the boardroom or the bedroom. In fact, handling conflict or not handling conflict is often considered one of the explanations for the fifty-fifty survival rate of marriages. The workplace is equally riddled with poorly managed conflicts affecting the bottom line.
The Roles She Plays in Conflict
Taking care of others: “I like playing ‘office mom’ when people seek me out with their troubles.”
Taking a backseat: “I don’t need to express my opinion with such a strong group.”
Acting dumb: “I can’t express my expertise on this issue.”
Being the power behind the throne: “It’s okay if I don’t get the acknowledgment for the work I do behind the scenes for my manager.”
Suffering silently: “That was inappropriate, but I will remain quiet about it.”
Playing nice: “If I act nice to my coworkers, no one will confront me.”
Waiting to be saved: “My supervisor will intervene on my behalf.”
Being seen, not heard: “I don’t speak up in meetings.”
Sacrificing yourself for others: “It’s okay if I did not get the credit I deserve. She needs it more.”
Being a people pleaser: “My need to have people like me is stronger than voicing my true opinion.”
Not rocking the boat: “I don’t want to be a troublemaker.”
Keeping and making the peace: “My need to have everyone get along is more important than addressing this issue.”

Men and Women in Conflict: The Roles She Plays

Sheryl Sandberg , the COO of Facebook, believes women’s progress in achieving leadership has “stalled.”  She refers to the “imposter” syndrome and over 40 years prior, Matina Horner, a psychologist who was the sixth and youngest president of Radcliffe College identified the “fear of success” syndrome in the achievement of women. Both Sandberg and Horner were addressing the achievement gap that exists among women.

Men fear failure and his self image is primarily defined by his success in the work place and career; she, in contrast, fears success. Why? What is the sex role conditioning behind this trap women fall into?

What are the significant issues that undermine women’s road to achievement

  • Success in the work world conflicts with femininity-that is, it is incongruent
  • Women have a high need for approval and affiliation
  • personal example of my late marriage and the coeds reaction when I announced I was getting married
Fear of Success Syndrome and How it Holds Women back

Women learn pretty early on in life that men can get uncomfortable when faced with a crying woman, and will often do just about anything to stem the flow of tears. His level of discomfort sky rockets as the sobs increase. He learns he has to keep that box of tissues handy anytime a potentially delicate issue or conflict has to be addressed. Usually, from his perspective her motivation for tears may fall into one of these three categories: hormone, manipulation or sincere emotion. Crying is a foreign concept to most men, and it can be hard to navigate a situation charged with emotion and tears. One of the biggest mistakes men make in conflict is perceiving a woman’s tears as an indication of sadness. Then the man begins to console the woman. She may respond by getting snappy, because he has misread the cue. Underneath a woman’s tears is seldom sadness but rather anger! Although the man is experiencing a high discomfort level with her tears, he needs to get at the anger she is feeling.
A useful technique for women in this kind of situation is “pre-cuing.” Set up the conflict communication, and possible tears, for a win. Tell the person that you’re very concerned and upset about what you’re preparing to discuss. If you subsequently get upset, say that you will take responsibility for your tears and you want him to take responsibility for what you are saying. Many women have reported that when they indicate that they may “lose it” and start to cry, they actually gain a sense of more control and end up not crying. This pre-cuing technique handles the credibility issue for an out-of-control woman and also eliminates the perception of manipulation. The receiver knows that the tears are a product of concern and frustration.

  • Women are taught to be “highly expressive”
  • If she is older, she is menopausal; if she is younger, she is PMS
  • Perceived in one of two ways: (1) Manipulative-Emotional blackmail (2) weak and out of control –definitely not leadership material
The Crying Game: The Pre-Cuing Technique

Does it ever seem that men are speaking in code and you’re on the outside?
Do they shut you down or ignore you when you speak? Perhaps you’re speaking in code, too—a different code. Men and women DO have unique communication styles that don’t always mesh well. Code Switching offers a way of “reaching across the aisle” to open the lines of communication. It helps both women and men crack the gender code and speak in common terms, so work gets done, conflict gets resolved, and mutual understanding and respect prevail … in the workplace and beyond.

The term “code switching” refers to having knowledge of both the male and female cultures or languages and readily swapping between them as you communicate.
Code switching: The ability to use your knowledge of two or more cultures or languages and switch between them, depending on the situation, in order to best communicate your message.

  • Androgyny and gender flexing
  • Why are code switchers more successful communicators?
  • Why do CS have a high self esteem?
  • Who finds it easier, men or women, to be androgynous-a code switcher?
Code Switching: Balancing Masculine and Feminine Styles

Look at how people are dressed at work. Does it seem as if “casual Friday” has gone over the top? Does your organization have a dress code with specific guidelines? Women are especially in need of workable guidelines. Workplace dress code is so ambiguous now it is easy to make mistakes.
Human behaviorist Desmond Morris wrote in Man Watching: A Field Guide to Human Behavior “It is impossible to wear clothes without transmitting social signals.” Our dress conveys messages of how we want to be seen.
Fifty years of research that tells us you can change perceptions of a person by changing their clothes. There is no getting around it. Dress has persuasive value that influences the behavior of others. Clothing may influence the extent to which another person may consider us credible. It is often read as a sign of character.
For obvious reasons, women’s attire has more potential for violation. Women’s bodies and dress are more complex and complicated. And, unfortunately, we can blame Hollywood and celebrities for setting unreasonable and sometimes ridiculous standards that have no place at a Fortune 500 company. “Brittany Spears Phenomena” represents a formula of less clothing equals less credibility in the workplace. Sometimes women at work look more like they are dressing for access than success! One can ask, “Is she going to work at Hooters?
From my survey research of clients here are some of the worst violations they report:
Nightclub makeup
Bras that let your nipples show
Underwear that is visible when women bend over
“Whale tale” thong underwear popping up over pant waist line
Miniskirts or tight skirts
Sheer and slip style dresses
“Muffin tops” (a product of too-tight and too-short shirts)
Tank tops
Shirts that gap between buttons
Halter or tube tops
Sweatpants or athletic pants
Navel-exposing pants

Go Home and Put on Some Clothes: Has Casual Friday Gone Over the Top?