22 November 2008

Reading Notes: Reading for work

Most of the books I read that are work related are technical books, not the kind of material that one reads 'just because'. A book with a title such as Managing A Software Development Project without Losing Your Staff or Your Cool isn't something that you'd curl up with on a grey Saturday afternoon. When I have to, I don't read these books, I skim them. I have such a book on the credenza in my office right now, something my boss ordered, for some sort of business intelligence software. Implementing that software will be one of my objectives for next year. Oh hum, boring!

Recently, the training manager offered a leadership class for employees, and is conducting the class as a book study. We meet weekly and there is an internal wiki page where participants can comment. Only once before have I been in any sort of book-related study at work. I'm finding it to be an interesting experience.

The book that we are reading is Leading from the Front: No excuse leadership tactics for Women, by Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch, who are former Marine officers. We discuss one chapter each week. I have to admit upfront that I haven't read the chapters when I've known that I wouldn't be able to attend. When I do attend, I block out about 30 minutes during the week to read. That block is usually compressed into 15 - 20 minutes, right before the session. But, I'm finding that is enough time, because after the discussion, I usually re-read sections from the chapter.

One of the interesting things about this exercise is that, although the book is aimed at women, there are both men and women participating in the class. I work at a company (and in a field) which is predominately male. According to some statistics I've read, it is more male than any other field in the US (except perhaps, I guess, the Catholic priesthood).

I've found that by discussing the book, I'm seeing some of my colleagues in a different light. I've been surprised at how involved emotionally some of the men are with their work and their staff. (I don't mean emotionally involved as in romantically involved.) Some of them seem to be much more caring than I thought, and others more tolerant of dealing with the foibles of the staff than I would have guessed. Reading the book is sort of an equalizer: everybody's opinion is valid and there isn't any org chart considerations given to the makeup of the group. Since schedules don't allow all to attend each week, the wiki has been an welcomed adjunct to the weekly sessions, although I think the HR leader would have liked more people to participate in the online discussion. It's an interesting exercise for me and I'm glad that I participated.

This week's chapter was on crying at work. I have always worked to NOT do this at work. I was surprised that there was an entire chapter in the book about it. Who would think about crying at work? Sure, there have been times that I've been upset and have sought refuge in my car or a bathroom stall to shed a few tears, but crying in front of a supervisor or a colleague over a typical work situation would be humiliating for me. But, one of the interesting things about this chapter is that it also discusses how other emotional outbursts have the same effect as crying: one loses her credibility, is seen as weak, people avoid, or superiors pass you up for plum assignments because you can't handle stress. Griping, whining, complaining and angry outbursts are in the same category according to the book.

I am sometimes prone to 'vent'. This is something that took me a long time to realize wasn't going to fly with my boss. When I was on a high-stress project that was not going well last year, he frequently had to "talk me down". Some of it was understandable, but back in the office, I realized that it was important that I not be so negative when talking about my projects and the roadblocks we were experiencing. While I caught on that I wasn't doing myself any favors, I never thought of it as being akin to crying. I don't think that it is as bad, but I can see how women doing this can be perceived by men as something that it isn't meant to be.

Interestingly, last year, the feedback I got in my review was that my team didn't think that I was a very emotional person. It's a tricky way, the tightrope that a woman manager needs to travel on between being too sensitive and emotional, and being seen as aggressive and cold-hearted.


Kay said...

Fascinating! So true! I can identify with this ... altho' being in a caring nurturing profession - childcare (and in my case, caring for babies in the nursery) means there are tears and tantrums all around - hopefully tho', more from the kiddies than from staff!

Anne said...

I *wish* I had your problem. I wept in front of my Director of Grad. Studies when I was in grad school. (I was 22, so I can forgive myself) but I am TOO passionate and sometimes I cannot control it. Usually I do, but I hate those moments, once a year or less, when I just have too many emotions.

I think it's very cool that you're reading and discussing this. I just finished leading a big series of workshops & I find the whole thing of peer-to-peer teaching for grown-ups really interesting and challenging.

But what I stopped by to say was that, for me, the great gift of motherhood was that it taught me vividly the difference between mothering and being caring to a student or employee (I hire teachers, too) or co-worker. Suddenly, I could feel the line. It's case-by-case, but I could feel it.

Cam said...

Kay, I bet that childcare workers are probably more steady with their emotions than some in the corporate world. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think that when you're the adult among children, it's easier than when all are adults and acting like children.

Anne - Interesting observation about the difference between caring and mothering. I hadn't thought of it that way, but you are right: there is a difference. Maybe that is where some women in the workplace fail -- they try to mother instead of being caring.

I wouldn't say that it is not a problem for me though. There have been times that I have had to fight back tears, barely escaping crying in front of coworkers. But, I think that it is my other emotions that are more apparent - one knows when I'm pissed. I don't have a poker face. It would certainly serve me better if I could have a more steady composure that didn't give my emotions away. I think that it is a problem of perception that many women face: men are assertive,women are aggressive; men are passionate, women are emotional; men are steady and unemotional, if women are, they are cold-hearted bitches. Working in such a male-dominated field, I've been acutely aware of it and I know that men can be just as emotional as women but, with the exception of crying, there is a lot more tolerance of emotional outbursts with men. As I get older, it doesn't seem as much of a problem, but I think that is more a factor of age -- and how older women are perceived -- than of any change in my demeanor, although I'm sure I've changed as I've matured.

One of the pleasant surprises in this week's session is that someone mentioned Deborah Tannen's book, Talking Nine to Five. Now that would be an interesting book study group in the workplace!

litlove said...

The big question for me is, are men judged by the same standards when it comes to venting or raging or even crying? (My old bookstore boss used to well up sometimes in meetings when things got tough). My feeling is that they are not, and that women continue to be judged on their emotions no matter where they are or what they are doing. I agree extreme emotions aren't appropriate to the workplace, but I think the rule should stand for men, too.