Psychology 101 and 102. These are the two college classes that I use every day of my life. I took these classes when I was 18 years old as a freshman at Rutgers University and what I learned cuts me to the chase about what drives women and men in the workplace, and why people do what they do.
As much talk as there is about the vast differences between women and men, I also understand at least two things that we all have in common. Every human is born needing these two things and, together, they are key deciding factors to what degree we succeed in work and in life.
Curious? Read on.
In class, we learned the famous theories of Sigmund Freud, Ivan Pavlov and Carl Jung, but the ones I find the most useful are Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs developed in 1943. It is Maslow (and my professor) who helped me to understand what both women and men need in the workplace.
Maslow said that we are all born with five basic needs.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Source: Wikipedia)
These needs apply to every human being, female and male. After the basic survival needs of air, water, food and shelter for physical safety, you will notice the third and fourth needs of Love/belonging and Esteem. It is these needs of Belonging and Respect/Esteem that impact us most strongly in the workplace.
When these two needs are in place, it is a set-up for major success. Conversely, when these two needs are not being met, it sets the stage for profound dissatisfaction and unrest. It would also explain the revolving doors of staff who quit their jobs.
The surest way to chase people away from our companies is to disrespect them and to make them feel like outsiders. These principles not only apply to the workplace but to one’s personal life as well.
In February, 2015, the Los Angeles Times published an article by Tracey Lien entitled, “Why are women leaving the tech industry in droves?” Yes, why exactly are they leaving, I wondered?
I read the article and Maslow gave me the answer again. Lien writes, “The reasons are varied. According to the Harvard study, they include a ‘hostile’ male culture, a sense of isolation, and lack of a clear career path.” A staffer who quit was quoted, “They (the men) just kept asking me to prove myself over and over again.”
These women are leaving because they feel that they most definitely do not belong and they are being disrespected in extreme and unambiguous ways. The women feel isolated, alone and without support which is the recipe for failure at the deepest levels.
I began to think about solutions and asked what would slow and potentially stop this stampede out of the profession?
Maslow makes it very clear. The secret is to create a workplace environment where staff feel that they authentically:
- Belong in the company and as part of the team
- Are respected for their skills and talents
These needs found in the DNA of both women and men won’t be denied. When they are met, everything is possible. This reality explains why it feels so devastating to be humiliated and ostracized. It is a universal red flag which is human code for “I don’t belong here. I need to flee as fast as I can.”
Women need leaders and colleagues of both sexes who put teeth into new expectations for behavior in the work environment acknowledging a “new normal”. To ignore this basic psychology is equivalent to endorsing the chasing away of talented people from our companies who (by the way) we paid a great deal of money to hire in the first place!
All of this information directly applies to the work of administrative professionals and their managers. The most successful PAs and EAs in the world are genuinely respected and deeply valued in their departments and companies. They belong with their managers and on their teams. And because these critical needs are being met, these Assistants are motivated to go above and beyond every single day.
Because the Assistant profession is 95-98% female, all this makes a very strong case for women working to support other women to clear the obstacles that inevitably present themselves.
Smart managers and leaders would do well to spend time with Abraham Maslow who tells us in no uncertain terms what is deeply important to both women and men, no matter what position they hold. This is powerful information that has been available for a very long time and still makes so much sense. Let us use the values of Respect and Belonging to bring out the best in every member of staff and finally stop the parade of people looking for the exit.