By Dr Vijayalakshmi (Viji) Kalyanaraman
In the last couple of decades, women leaders in the workforce have been on the rise. In the male-dominated STEM fields, particularly at higher ranks, women need to mentor and manage students, postdocs and technical experts, while frequently interacting with collaborators and fellow scientists in the institution. Due to differences in the innate abilities of men and women, leading a group of men can prove to be a challenging task for a woman.
The popular paradigm “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus”, implies that men and women are entirely two different species and are psychologically different. Many of us might disagree with this idea and argue that men and women are fundamentally similar, with perceived differences in innate abilities being attributed to mere societal influence (caveman theory of evolution) or certain hormonal differences  between men and women. Nonetheless, I’m sure we can all agree that the interaction between different personalities lead to friction followed by frustrations, which ultimately results in low productivity at work. So, how can women be successful in leading men? How can women gain respect of their male team members?
Regardless of the type of interaction with the male - whether it is your male boss, co-worker, those you lead, or even a family member or spouse – this book helps understand these interactions. However, the author bases her narrative on the assumption that men and women are psychologically different, with different stereotypes, which I do not completely agree with. Nonetheless, you should carefully observe the men you are leading, working with or working for, before forming any preconceived notions about their traits. Thus, instead of blindly following this book, I would suggest that you exercise caution and learn a person’s traits by trial-and-error. For instance I find both women and men can be detail-oriented, especially those working in a technical field. Similarly, building trust is equally important for women and men – open conversations and transparency helps build trust with an unfamiliar person.
Runyan has devoted an entire chapter on how to be a confident manager. She explains the importance of assertiveness and she alerts the readers to “Be aware that being assertive isn’t the only goal; it is being assertive and smart.”
I cannot agree more with Runyan about adopting a professional dress-code and manner in the workplace. Additionally she also encourages women to take an interest in what might be deemed ‘manly interests’. For instance, even if you don’t love or follow sport, she suggests that women should “at least know what is going on and who is winning and losing” as “men and not women initiate sports-talk 85% of the time in the office”. She says that this will enable women to understand how men in the team compete and provide more insight into their behavior in the office. As women have more common in common to share with other women, some extra effort might be required for women to understand men.
In general, this book can teach professionalism for women at work, regardless of if they play a managerial role. This book is a good addition to the personal library and can be useful at any point in your career. The points covering the constructive use of men’s spirit for competition and negotiation with men particularly drew my attention. However, while this book makes an excellent reference for personal evaluation, I would not recommend it as a one-on-one guide.
Note: The reviewer of the book is an established materials research scientist herself and I share her belief that learning to manage both men and women effectively is critical for women scientists to boost the number of women leaders in STEM fields.
1. E.K. Clint et al., Q. Rev. Bio., 87 (2012) 289
Dr Vijayalakshmi (Viji) Kalyanaraman is a surface scientist and freelance science writer. After receiving her PhD from the University of Hamburg in Germany, she worked as a postdoctoral research scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, investigating astrochemical reactions applying her surface science skills to understand the origin of life on earth. She studied the reaction mechanisms in thin film amino acids, of DNA as well as of organic molecules by bombarding with soft x-rays from advanced photon source. After her postdoctoral appointment, she took a break to care for her child. She is now a contributing writer for Scientista, while also engaging in independent science writing.