While women have come a long way in the workplace over the years, there's still a perception among many female workers that the office is a man's world, and in order to succeed in that world, they need to emulate men. This can be especially true of women who strive to progress up the corporate ladder.
"Many women are being given this message, both directly and indirectly, by the people around them. Naturally because there are more men in the workplace, the likelihood of having a male boss is high, especially if you get higher in the organization and there are fewer and fewer women. The more senior you get, the more coaching you get from a man -- and by nature, they will give you guidance based on their perspective," said Dana Manciagli, author of Cut the Crap, Get a Job. "As a result, women feel that in order to keep up, stand out in the crowd, and get promoted, they need to have the same characteristics as men."
Luckily for women in the workplace, times are changing. A 2010 study from U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee stated that the number of women in the workplace has increased exponentially in recent years, exploding from 46 million in 1984 to 66 million in 2009. Also, women are increasingly advancing in their level of education, women being the recipients of 62.6 percent of Master's degrees granted in the U.S in 2009-10 according to the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES).
The unique qualities
As a result of these changes, the unique qualities that women bring to the workplace are gradually being acknowledged, even appreciated. This can helps not just female workers, but businesses as a whole. According to research conducted by University of California Berkeley, companies who embrace the distinctive traits of female employees and value gender diversity in their organizations actually see a boost to their bottom line, while organizations that cling to the good old boy network mentality do not perform as well.
What are these skills that women specifically bring to the workplace that can be beneficial to the health of organizations? The following are just a few of the qualities women can leverage at work.
Women value teams
Women are known for valuing relationships with others, and when this trait is brought into the workplace it can result in team building that contributes towards getting the job done. According to a study published by talent management company Caliper titled Qualities that Distinguish Women Leaders, female executives can use relationship building and listening skills to lead their teams, while still making everyone feel that their contributions have been valued.
In addition, women can use this skill in order to keep information flowing freely throughout a department, ensuring that everyone has the data they need. Women also ask questions to gain an understanding of other people's point of view. This trait can be beneficial when making decisions since these leaders are willing to get input from other people in order to obtain a well-rounded view of a problem and come to a conclusion based on different perspectives.
Training for teamwork skills
Of the 1,025,729 women who earned a bachelor's degree in 2011-2012, 73,758, or around 7 percent, obtained a degree in the social sciences*. Some of the programs in this area, like sociology, cultural anthropology and political science examine the ways in which individuals relate to each other in various contexts, which can potentially contribute to a better grasp on team management.
Women are persuasive
Since women are willing to build relationships, it's not surprising that they, according to Caliper, are persuasive leaders in the workplace. That's in part because they tend to be empathic listeners, learning about other people in ways that enable them to appeal to their unique needs and sensibilities. As a result, women understand any objections or concerns others may have and know how to effectively formulate a response they will appreciate.
Women are generous
Women are givers, so in the workplace, it tends to be easy for them to encourage those around them and allow others to thrive as a member of a team, according to Manciagli.
"In the workplace, women are great at inspiring and lifting up those around them," she said. "This is why most women leaders are such excellent long-term strategic thinkers. They are less inclined to rally behind a short-term strategy if a more sustainable approach can be executed."
But people in the workplace should not mistake this generosity for weakness, warned Manciagli. Just because women are willing to be inclusive doesn't mean they should be expected to mother those around them, or be treated like a glorified maid.
"This is not a motherly care kind of giving and it's not a 'can I get you a cup of coffee' type thing. It's more about inspiration, checking in with other people, and making sure that everyone is okay," she said. "And it's about innovation too: Women allow others to participate and build a very open environment for other people to get in."
Shouting it from the rooftops
Although women bring skills and talent to the workplace, many are not comfortable with singing their own praises. In order to really get organizations to appreciate their unique skills, Manciagli said women should be vocal about their strengths and let everyone know why their expertise is important.
"We should get the megaphone out and trust our skills as women in the workplace because you will shine and get promoted based on those skills," she said. "But it does take confidence for a woman to not act like a man, and leverage her strengths in a strong and powerful way."
Business education inroads
Of the 1,025,729 women who earned a bachelor's degree in 2011-2012, 176,004, a full 17 percent, majored in business, management, marketing and related support services. Of those 176,004 business degrees, 67,430 were in purchasing and procurement, 25,777 were in accounting and 16,451 were in marketing/marketing management.
* Numbers derived from the July 2013 NCES study cited below.
If you're interested in finding out about the courses and programs that can help you capitalize on your own skills, check out our listings below or use the tool on the right to get matched to a school.
"Bachelor's, master's, and doctor's degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by sex of student and discipline division 2011-2012," National Center for Education Statistics, July 2013, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_318.30.asp
"The Condition of Education 2012," National Center for Education Statistics, May 24, 2012, http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2012045
"Women and the Economy 2010: 25 Years of Progress But Challenges Remain," U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, August 2010, http://www.jec.senate.gov/public/?a=Files.Serve&File_id=8be22cb0-8ed0-4a1a-841b-aa91dc55fa81
Qualities of Women Leaders, About.com, Accessed August 31, 2014, http://womensissues.about.com/od/intheworkplace/a/WomenLeaders.htm
The Most Undervalued Leadership Traits Of Women, Forbes, Accessed August 31, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2014/02/03/the-most-undervalued-leadership-traits-of-women/
The Qualities that Distinguish Women Leaders, Caliper, Accessed August 31, 2014, https://www.calipercorp.com/portfolio/the-qualities-that-distinguish-women-leaders/
How Men and Women Differ in the Workplace, The Fiscal Times, Accessed August 31, 2014, http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2012/05/25/How-Men-and-Women-Differ-in-the-Workplace
4 Skills that Give Women a Sustainable Advantage Over Men, Forbes, Accessed August 31, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2011/08/22/4-skills-that-give-women-a-sustainable-advantage-over-men/
This Is How Women And Men Are Different In The Workplace, Business Insider, Accessed August 31, 2014, http://www.businessinsider.com/the-rise-of-women-in-the-workplace-is-changing-everything-2012-2
The Skills Women Bring to the Workplace, The Wall Street Journal, Accessed August 31, 2014, http://blogs.wsj.com/atwork/2012/07/03/the-skills-women-bring-to-the-workplace/
Why Women May Be Better Leaders Than Men Psychology Today, Accessed August 31, 2014, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201212/why-women-may-be-better-leaders-men
What Women Bring to the Exercise of Leadership, Regent University, Accessed August 31, 2014, http://www.regent.edu/acad/global/publications/jsl/vol3iss2/JSL_V3Is2_Chandler_pp1-12.pdf
Dana Manciagli, author, interview with Kenya McCullum, August 22, 2014.