Put gender issues aside when choosing gifts for your staff

Dear Joan:
My husband was placed in a management position without having read or studied the best way to manage people. When I hear of some of his tactics, I try to be the helpful woman behind the man. I am very well read (he doesn’t have or make the time) and I try to offer advice to him that should help him to be a well liked, respected and effective manager. Of course, he doesn’t always appreciate my unsolicited advice.

I would appreciate your comments about one of these issues that he doesn’t agree with.
On a trip to Europe, we found a shop with lovely, affordable souvenirs. Many of my husband’s lower level supervisors may not be able to ever get to Europe. He wanted to bring back small gifts for the seven female supervisors under him and nothing for the five male supervisors under him. When I protested this caused an argument. I assure you this was NOT a jealousy issue on my part. I urged him to buy for all or no one.

He said that men don’t expect to get souvenirs and women like them. In today’s workplace don’t little affronts make a big difference? He has such a good rapport with all these people and we will have situations like this pop up again. Unfortunately, I think, he brought back souvenirs for no one. What advice can you give?

It’s a situation many of us can empathize with. Our best advice can get us into trouble when our spouse feels we are treading on their turf, or vice versa. And what really rankles is when we suspect that they could be right!

Although your husband’s intentions were pure, I think you did help him avoid a tactical misstep. The affront might have been interpreted two ways. First, the men might have been miffed that they were overlooked. They might even have interpreted it as favoritism. Second, the women might have been irritated that he generalized about "what women like." It could have come off as patronizing. They might wonder, "Why is he treating us differently. Does he think we are at a different level than our male peers?"

The key here is the thinking his action would represent. It would demonstrate that he puts them in two different groups based on gender. The problem is that it might label him as someone who has a dated philosophy about how men and women want to be treated at work.

Please don’t mistake this advice as being overly PC (politically correct). I am getting very frustrated with the growing hypersensitivity about comments and actions that could be taken as offensive. In many cases I think the pendulum has swung too far. But in this case, I think your husband’s staff would have been buzzing unfavorably about his well-intentioned mistake.

Think for a moment about other gaffs that would cause a similar stir: Letting women in the department leave earlier than the men because it’s assumed that it’s their job to pick up the children at the day care center. In some companies I still hear stories about managers who insist that it’s appropriate to pay the men in the department more than the women in comparable jobs because they are the "bread winners."

Of course I’m not assuming that your husband would make mistakes like this, but the one he almost made could have been lumped into the same category. Bringing home a gift is a thoughtful gesture his staff would appreciate. But why not something that could be enjoyed by all? For example, my colleague in our office often brings back treats from her travels, such as spicy nuts from Mexico or salt-water taffy from a special shop she found in Florida. We love her thoughtfulness and love to try out fun foods from far away.

His best bet is to become gender blind. If he regards his entire team of supervisors as an integrated team of professionals who each have their own preferences and interests, he will build on the rapport he already has and become a great leader everyone will want to work for.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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