Many of us still remember Silke Foth’s informative and cheerful lecture at this year’s Fondsfrauen summit. Management consultant and coach Silke Foth spoke in Mannheim about male rituals that each of us knows, but which we may not have thought about so far. Today we get a second helping and Anke Dembowski talks to Silke about rituals in the male-dominated business world and how we can deal with them. Our male colleagues may also be doing something that we can learn from: Men spend around 30% of their paid work time on networking, Foth observes. That may be worth copying.
Silke, you often talk about male rituals in the working environment. What exactly are rituals?
Rituals are often repeted behaviors that can occur consciously or subconsciously. A ritual is always done in the same way for the same events, for example a welcome ritual or the company Christmas party. Rituals are important because they create attachment, trust and identification. For example, rituals, such as the company Christmas party, the company summer party or the Bavarian white sausage breakfast event, have been abolished in various companies because they were supposedly too expensive. But that was a big mistake, because such rituals show appreciation of the employees by the employer. With a time lag of 1.5 to 2 years, commitment and identification with the employer decreased dramatically. This effect was measurable. Incidentally, something else was ascertained during this investigation: What was left, especially in highly hierarchically organized companies with 5 to 7 hierarchy levels, i.e. a classic corporate structure: Pure status and power staging rituals remained. The employees measured themselves to each other constantly. But there were very few cooperation rituals left.
Why are there so many male rituals, especially in the business world, when most companies presumably assume that they have equal rights?
To answer this, we have to take a trip into history. Men have always been allowed to work and start a businesses. In particular in management positions, we can still see today that there are significantly more men than women. Women in Germany, for example, have only been allowed to keep their own bank account since 1958, and until 1977 in West Germany a woman was only allowed to work if she could reconcile this with her household and family responsibilities. Therefore, women have historically disadvantages, and that is also the reason why we still have more men than women on the executive floors. The proportion of women tends to be lower, the higher the position and the larger the company. In September 2019, the boards of the 160 largest German publicly traded companies had 90.7% men and only 9.3% women. Men actually assume that equality is no longer an issue. There is an investigation by the consulting company Accenture, which comes to the conclusion that every second man believes that gender equality has almost been achieved. But look at the numbers: 54% of high school graduates in Germany and 48% of students there are female. In the medical department, 66% of the students are female. But there are only 10% female chief physicians. And at German universities, only 23% of the professors are women.
Can you say whether male rituals as such are good or bad?
Rituals are not about good or bad. Male and female rituals are just different. But you should know and perceive them. In classic, hierarchical corporate cultures that are male-dominated, meetings start with the clarification of the pecking order. First, the status is clarified, and then the matter, the actual topic of the meeting, is discussed. Women can observe that: it’s about the new mountain bike or the car, the wrong decision by the football coach at the weekend … just about who’s a little smarter.
How should women react to this if they notice such male rituals and would rather come to the actual topic?
It wouldn’t be good to say “I don’t have that much time, let’s get to the topic!” Better is a sentence like: “You seem to be an absolute expert on this subject. Can I approach you if I have a question about it? ”Then he knows that she has noticed that he is great, and you can move on to the actual topic.
If clarifying the pecking order is a typical male ritual, what are female rituals?
Female rituals are designed to meet at eye level. They are relationship friendly. For example, when three women speak together and a fourth one comes along, the circle is made larger; the new person is included.
And what about the much-quoted bitchiness?
Of course there is also rivalry and competition among women. But their communication pattern is more subtle. Overall, however, it is less pronounced among women to measure themselves directly. Who is slimmer? Who has the more expensive handbag? It just doesn’t happen so directly.
You said something about a 30% limit for minorities. What’s it all about?
This comes from the research field of diversity and relates to the heterogeneity of a group with regard to gender, age, nationality, i.e. the cultural background, personality, education, and so on. The more diverse a team is, the more successful it is, because the more the group works on the goal and the cause. Diverse teams are much more successful than homogeneous teams because they look at things from multiple perspectives. Otherwise there is a risk that we all have the same film in our minds. If you have 30% diversity in a group, the culture changes towards more result orientation. In homogeneous groups, there are more status and power rituals because people have the need to differentiate themselves.
Can you give a few examples of male rituals in the business world?
One is the homage ritual in a meeting situation, which is particularly pronounced in hierarchical cultures. When a meeting ends, many of the male participants go to the alpha dog and pay homage to it. They line up to say to the silverback: “What you said is a fantastic concept! You have my support. ”They go there with their business card, and mark, so to speak.
And what do women do?
Most women, but also some men, look at their watch instead of paying homage and keep in mind that they still have to do their actual work. These are the classic busy bees, and there are also men among them, of course. They do the real work, but do not progress as well in their careers as the worshipers. These are visible, get more recognition from the Alfa dog and are more likely to be promoted. Therefore, non-worshipers usually look very disparagingly at the worshipers.
Is there a similar ritual among women?
Yes, women do something similar, they compliment each other. “The colour suits you well” or “Great outfit!” But this is not meant to worship, but rather to create an equal eye level.
How should women react if they notice male rituals and want to advance in the actual topic?
Women should not copy male rituals. The good news is: Alfa dogs don’t expect women to do that either. They prefer to get real feedback from them and can also accept it from a woman. But in order to be visible, women should also go to the alfa dog and should give feedback instead of paying homage, for example like this: “I found this and that very good. From my expertise, I see point YX differently. I am very happy if we can exchange ideas again. ”This is strategically good, because this is how we get to a follow-up appointment.
Does a woman make herself unpopular when she addresses the existence of male rituals?
When I talk to men about male rituals they say, “Yeah, that’s exactly how it works! What’s wrong with that? ”So they know the rituals and find them normal. Therefore it is important how women address such rituals. This shouldn’t be a “You-are-an-idiot-message”, but should be formulated in a completely neutral manner, or even better: humorous! With humour and a pattern break, we can address rituals in a way that are appreciated by men. Women should also know that these rituals are not directed against them personally, but are simply unreflected, automated social forms of self-expression, testing and measurement among men.
Are there female rituals that exclude men?
Female behaviours tend to include others. Women prefer to integrate rather than exclude. When a group of women talks about something, it’s often the case that a man doesn’t even go there. But when he does, women open the circle and integrate him.
Just as women find some male rituals annoying, are there also female rituals that bother men?
Yes, men often find it annoying that women like to justify themselves and give reasons for their behaviour. Instead of “no, it is not possible”, a woman gives just as many reasons as to why it is not possible. “Sorry, it does not work” would have been enough for a man. And what men find annoying is the often observed spleen to decorate rooms that many women have.
What do you advise women to do in a business environment? How should they behave?
Women should diagnose: what is directed against me personally, and what is it only a ritual? To do this, we need to sharpen our ritual knowledge. It is also important that we are clear about our own goals and skills. Helpful for this is for example a success diary in which we note briefly: What did I do well this week? People who document their success earn up to 30% more than their colleagues who don’t! Women should see that they are stage directors rather than victims, so don’t say “I can’t change it”, but think about how we can change the situation in your favour. And then of course there is the tendency towards self-doubt that many women have. A woman wants to be able to do everything 100%, and this tendency towards perfectionism is exhausting in the long run. It is proven again and again: men apply for a position if they meet 45 to 60% of the criteria, and women only when they meet at least 85%. So we have to get out of the underconfidence trap. We should also do more self-marketing according to the motto “Do good and talk about it!”
Do you have any tips on how we can best behave in meeting situations?
At meetings, we should make sure that we take up both, visual and acoustic space. However, women often take back, make themselves small, talk little and also relatively quietly. Status and visibility go hand in hand. It is also important that we network, that we connect and ally. Here we can learn a lot from men!
Thank you for the interesting insights, Silke!
studied psychology, sociology and pedagogy at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. She is
- – systemic consultant & coach
- – trainer for systemic coaching & mentoring
- – expert in diversity management
- – author of the book “Success Rituals for Business Witches”