There is a dichotomy with the traditional gestures by which women are shown respect in the United States. These gestures include opening doors, ladies first, pulling out chairs, walking on the street side of the sidewalk, paying for meals, standing when a woman stands at dinner, helping women into their coats, etc.
In social situations, women generally love and appreciate these gestures. It makes them feel valued, adored, and even pretty.
In business situations, these gestures can cause women to feel belittled or less valued. This is because men are not treated in a similar fashion.
As with men in business, women want to be appreciated for their contributions, not feel condescension because of their gender. If a man and woman are competing for the same job or promotion and the woman is treated as “more delicate” than the man, unconscious bias can lead people to choose the person who is “stronger and can handle the job.” Women wish to be treated equivalently, not as delicate or diminutive in intellect or physical ability.
Does it mean that in business, men should never open doors, pay for lunch, or help with boxes? No, of course not. It means that the gestures are appropriate for both genders. Following are examples of gender equality in the workplace.
The person that invites someone to lunch is the one who pays.
The person closest to the door opens it.
The person with the lighter load helps the person who is overloaded.
Anyone can help a person who is struggling with a coat.
A firm, confident handshake is correct with both genders. Both limp and bone-crushing handshakes are inappropriate for everybody.
So what is a gentleman to do at one of those events that is both business and social? If you are the lady’s date or spouse, simply ask her. If she does business with some of the other people at the event, she may wish to be seen as a peer and consequently treated in a more business-like manner. If the lady is not with you, err on the side of professionalism and use business manners.
Ladies, help the men know what is appropriate. If a handshake is the appropriate greeting, put out your hand. Remember to be consistent. Causing confusion does you no favors.
Recall, decades ago, men were taught to only shake hands with a woman when she put her hand out first. While that rule is obsolete in business today, men never received an instruction manual on the differences between social and business etiquette.
Kindness and thoughtfulness should always be the guide. Kindness in our intentions; thoughtfulness in the effects of our words and actions.
Teri Haynes | Business Interactions, LLC | Improving human interactions in business