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As the only male in a group of four female working on a presentation, the learning experience gained reflectively looking back was invaluable. How I got on in the working process while engaged in the completion of this presentation represented a process of understanding the difference in dynamics of working within a group situation whereby my initial impressions of the progress being made differed from the manner in which each individual approached the situation.
The following will offer a reflection on this situation.
At first, I felt as if I was the only one actively engaged on the project, gauging that the others were being flippant in their approach. Tavris and Wade (1984, pp. 71-73) offered some insight into this as they advise that men are more aggressive than women. They point to the example that this difference is detectable as early as age three when children start playing with one another (Tavris and Wade, 1984, pp. 71-73). Their analogy stated that little boys from the start show more physical aggression, play aggressive, have fantasy aggression and utilize verbal aggression (Tavris and Wade, 1984, pp. 71-73). This, they point to is the male aspect of winning, which means getting started earlier and taking over (Tavris and Wade, 1984, pp. 71-73). Fay and Tokarczyk (1993, pp. 78-79) developed my understanding further in adding that women approach work in a different manner, as they are more social beings. Dale and Lynne Spender (1986, p. 32) dismiss the mythical talkativeness of women indicating that in mixed sex conversations that women only talked ten to twenty percent of the time gauging their situation. They added that women, after feeling comfortable in a group setting will then set about the task at hand, however, they have privately thought about the problem and have definitive ideas and approaches to discuss when that time arrives (Spender and Spender, 1986, pp. 34-35).
Lunneborg (1990, p. 21) offered the following insight to this start of the project situation that I seemingly was so preoccupied with. She states that women tend to spend time gathering and thinking more about the information aspects in singular fashion, gauging the situation against their own personal skills and formulating approaches as they consider what they either know or have gleaned from other members of the group (Lunneborg, 1990, pp. 23-28). These dynamics helped me to understand that my learning style was simply too male oriented to at first take in the significances of how women approach problems and solutions.
I learned that the first thing I should have done was approach the first session as an introduction to my co-workers, asking for inputs on how to set about the presentation as a group process, instead of feeling that I was the only contributor. Novarra (1980, p. 51) advised me that women manage in a less academic fashion. They, women, are “… accessible, unstuffy, informal, direct in getting to the point, spontaneous, averse to wrangling, sympathetic and not long winded or pompous”. Nickles and Ascroft (1981, pp. 206-207) referred to the foregoing style as ‘beta’. They, women, utilize power for the good of the group as opposed to the individual, and that good management represents sensitivity in the creation of a work environment that fosters growth and learning (Nickles and Ascroft. 1981, pp. 206-207). They offered additional insight in that ‘Beta’ power cares more about the quality of work life and uses flexible schedules, job sharing and the decentralization of authority (Nickles and Ascroft. 1981, pp. 206-207). Leaders are not needed at the top of the hierarchy in making decisions, as it is a shared process.
Howe (1975, pp. 127-171) advised me that women are more democratic, egalitarian and cooperative. In working with men, or in this case a male, women tend to slow things down to create a pace that reflects thinking and sharing. She added that women have an alternative view of power that is based upon sisterhood, and that in a group situation the usual first steps in the process entail an informal discussion as the parties get to know one another for later interaction as opposed to the male method of the big dog taking over and letting other things fall into place.
As I saw the collective approach take hold later in the process, the understanding I gained after the fact made me better understand the dynamics of working with women and how my initial impressions were male based. The difficulty I felt I had in maintaining group focus was my male approach as opposed to the reflective and group sharing approach women utilize to address working situations, which are similar in context to their approach of problems in any form.
The apprehension I experienced in working with a group of four females taught me that there are differing ways in which the approach to a working situation can be handled. As the only male member I thrust myself into thinking into feeling that I needed to take charge, even though I held back on that action. Upon reflection, that was a wise choice as the group dynamics later showed me that the work at hand was being handled, but in a different manner than I was accustomed to. The lack of individual conflicts, the overall courteousness of the group, and the process of producing the piece was an enjoyable and productive session. My feelings of getting a late start did not account for the accelerated pace of development as a team whereby ideas, solutions and contributions flowed naturally without power struggles, thus shortening the time frame to get things accomplished.
In retrospect the entire experience enabled me to take away from the process a new set of techniques and understandings with respect to group dynamics that was not just applicable to women, but groups of any gender composition. My concerns regarding being the only male in the group were facets of my own imagination as the females did not and were not focused on gender differences, they were focused on meshing the group into a cohesive unit, whereby the synergy would be greater than the parts.
Fay, E., Tokarczyk, M. (1993) Working Class Women in the Academy. University of Massachusetts Press
Howe, F. (1975) Women and the power to change. McGraw Hill
Lunneborg, P. (1990) Women Changing Work. Bergin and Garvey
Nickles, E., Ashcroft, L. (1981) The coming matriarchy. Seaview Books
Novarra, V. (1980) Women’s Work, men’s work. Praeger
Spender, D., Spender, L. (1986) Scribbling sisters. Camden Press
Tavris, C., Wade, C. (1984) The longest war: Sex Differences in perspective. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
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