The best 3 ways to keep women in your team engaged and motivated


You, as a manager, can break someone’s day and make their day. Feeling valued by their supervisor in the workplace is key to high employee motivation and positive morale, both for men and women. However, did you know women may need a different approach than men?

Feeling valued ranks right up there for most people with liking the work, competitive pay, opportunities for training and advancement. In fact not feeling valued is the #1 reason for women leaving their organisation.

At least that is what Barbara Annis found. Barbara Annis is a US Gender Intelligence expert. She set out to find why women have been opting out of organisations at twice the rate of men. She interviewed over 2400 women who left leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies in a variety of industries across the Americas, Europe and Asia. She found that 68% percent of senior women interviewed mention ‘not feeling valued in the workplace’ in their top 5 reasons for leaving. ‘Work vs. personal life issues’ was mentioned as well, however in contrast, it was only mentioned by 30% of senior women.

So why do women not feel valued in the workplace? This could of course be because they just don’t get praised as much, or because they don’t broadcast their achievements and are therefore less visible. There could even be some dark complot of men to just praise men.
But I believe it’s something different. I believe it’s linked to gender differences in how we like to be valued, what we like to be valued for and how often.


The science behind gender differences in feeling valued

To understand better what to do with this difference, you first need to know where it comes from. Dr. M. Delfos, a respected Dutch psychologist and researcher describes this well, and I have summarised her analysis for you below.

Women tend to need to hear more often they are valued. This is called the ‘refreshment syndrome’, and is explained by psychological theory on feeling safe.
All human beings have a strong need to feel safe. However, women cannot count on their own physical power for protection. Therefor they tend to find this protection in groups, in relationships. After all, no one will attack a friend. This comes with a strong need to check, whether they are still safe: ‘Are we still friends? Are you on my side?’ It helps them feel safe to check regularly and often.

Women are often known for this strong need to feel valued and be reminded of their value regularly. Men have the same need; it’s less visible though. Men and women protect each other. However, men tend to find their psychological protection from the women around them and especially from their life partner. Whereas men offer physical protection, women offer psychological protection in the shape of protecting the self-image of the person that they love or care for.

In addition, gender differences are found in what men and women feel valued for. Men tend to feel valued for a public achievement, climbing a mountain, winning a fight, or in a work situation: bringing in an order or designing a building.

Women tend to feel valued when they are valued as a person, when they feel people like them and they have a good relationship. This could very well be linked to the same psychological mechanism that building relationships is the key to feeling safe.


3 Things team managers can do to make the women in their team feel valued

So now that you know how feeling valued tends to work, you can start applying it to flex your style and adapt to what works for women. As a team manager you will find that women tend to feel valued when you:
1. Check in regularly with your female team members

Just drop by and ask them: ‘How are you doing?’, ‘How are you getting on with the job I just gave you?’, ‘How did you get on at that client yesterday?’

If you do the same with men, it tends to work less well. Men will feel controlled and micro- managed. Regular checking-in undermines their self-worth, and they will start feeling that you don’t trust them to get on with the job. There’s some science behind this as well, but that’s a whole new article.

With women it tends to be different, they feel it’s nice when someone is checking-in and showing an interest. It feels to them that you care about what they are doing. It makes them feel valued, as it helps them feel safe. Knowing you care helps them to know that you still have a good relationship.

2. Give positive feed-back more often

Just find something to comment on, it can be small things. It may seem obvious, but I would like to add this is not there hair-do or there lovely shoes, but something work-related, their attitude or an end-result.

3. Recognise women not just for the end-result but also for the process, how they did the work

A female project manager I interviewed worded it like this: ‘I like to get pats on the head. A manager thanking me for what I have put in: ‘You have worked all night to get the release out, thank you’ Saying thank you is important to me. I realise that I would like to be thanked in person, a ‘thank you to all the team’ doesn’t work as well, it makes me feel it is irrelevant I was working, and it could have been anyone.’


Making it work in practice

Managers sometimes struggle with this advice. They argue checking-in is about micro management and hand holding. They feel that it is about telling women what to do. However, that’s not what this is about. This is about showing human interest, and leaving the content with her. It’s about checking on how she feels.

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, a leading gender consultant once told me she found that many senior managers find it hard to know what to say when checking-in. She advises them it’s sufficient to walk in and ask one or two open questions. Just walk up and say: ‘How are you today?’, or: ‘How are you getting on with the project you started the other day?, or: ‘What’s going on for you today?’. It may feel strange initially but it really works. The aim is to make women in your team feel you care, let them know you are interested in them as a person and in their work.

Others tell me that you can’t just go around giving special treatment to women. However I believe a good manager adapts their style to each individual, and if you find a person flourishes with a bit more regular positive feed-back, then it’s part of your job as a good manager to deliver that.

By now you might be thinking that everyone would feel more engaged and motivated with getting regular positive feed-back and ‘thank you’s’, and you may well be right. But I believe women miss it more when it’s not there.

I believe if all managers were just a bit more aware of these differences and how they come from a basic need to feel safe, women would no longer feel undervalued at work. Instead they would feel engaged and motivated and ready to work harder than ever.

What is happening in your team? Have you seen this at work? Have you tried it, and does it work for you? Do let me know how you get on.

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Author: Inge Woudstra

Would you like to know more or have a question? I am always happy to have a chat to discuss your needs. Why not drop me a line or pick up the phone? Call me at 01372 457 907 or Just contact me to discuss your requirements by e-mail.

I can help you recruit, retain and advance women, and typically work with organisations in tech and engineering.

Or just check out my book 'Be Gender Smart - The Key to Career Success for Women'

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