The Role of Gender in Recognition: Men vs. Women

Lauren Deegan

Tackling the question of how gender affects performance and recognition in the workplace poses a sticky situation. Most people agree that there are some things men and women do differently at work, but we all know that generalizations aren’t true for everyone either. It makes thinking of recognition or rewards in terms of gender tough, but it doesn’t mean that the exercise isn’t worth it. You can use insights from psychologists and HR experts to better understand the role gender plays in the success of your workplace recognition program.

Is the Same Type of Recognition Right for Both Men and Women?

In many countries, especially America, thinking about gender in the workplace is more or less taboo. After all, no one wants to offend an employee who might not identify with gender stereotypes or be accused of outright discrimination. However, failing to take gender into account when designing a recognition program is liking failing to think of gender when designing an office building. You might run an ultra-hip company where shared unisex restrooms will fly, but you’re in the minority there.

Most men and women expect that they’ll encounter things ranging from bathrooms to newspaper ads to TV shows that are tailored to their gender. It’s no different in the workplace. Even if you don’t believe that there are neurological differences between men and women, you know that children are socialized differently according to their gender. This socialization carries over into the workplace, and men and women often value different aspects of the workplace experience.

For example, psychologists assert that men tend to be most invested in their pay and benefits, advancement and professional success, and authority and overall status. There’s no doubt that women also value pay and benefits, but research suggests that they place even higher value on other aspects of the workplace experience. These include building professional relationships and gaining friends at work, receiving recognition and respect from colleagues, and enjoying excellent communication and collaboration with coworkers.

Constructing Effective Praise for Everyone

The great thing about taking gender into account when designing your recognition program is that you don’t have to have different systems in place for men and women. Instead, you need to know how to deliver recognition so that it has the maximum impact. Keeping gender in mind as you approach recognizing an employee can improve the efficacy of your praise.

How praise is delivered is what’s key here. What you say when you give recognition is just as important as how you say it. In general, women tend to be compelled by emotions as well as evidence. Imagine you want to recognize a woman for being an incredible team player. Many women place high value on work relationships themselves. If you’re recognizing that type of employee, you can say something like, “you kept everyone’s spirits high during an incredibly tough project” when you’re giving praise.

If you want to recognize a man for the same accomplishment, that type of approach might not work. After all, men tend to value evidence over emotions. Instead of praising the employee for keeping the team’s spirits high, look at how that translates into hard evidence. Saying something like, “thanks to your dedication to the team, we met the deadline and landed a huge new contract.” You’re giving praise for the exact same behavior, but you’re doing it in a way that truly reaches each individual employee.

We know that gender is one of the proverbial elephants in the room when it comes to recognition programs, but it doesn’t have to be. At Cristaux, we believe that tailoring praise to your audience matters. As you build your recognition program, focus on tailoring it to your organization’s needs. That means thinking about who you are and what your organization does, and it mean thinking about gender too.