AKRON—When I first joined Bridgestone 22 years ago, I was the only woman in the materials area of tire development. A lot has changed across my career, and one of the most exciting evolutions to watch has been the growing number of female employees in tire development and tire engineering.
We currently have four women working in our passenger and light truck tire development group at the Bridgestone Americas Technical Center—half of whom are named Jamie. This probably explains why my colleagues in Japan think Jamie is America's favorite name for baby girls.
All joking aside, as a woman in a predominantly male industry, I often get asked to share advice for navigating the workplace. It's a tricky question because I've always found the tire industry—and my male colleagues—to be very welcoming and inclusive. But looking back across my career, there are some things I wish I had known about the varying communication styles of men and women, and that's what I'd like to share with you in this blog.
Let me preface this by saying that there are exceptions to every rule, and there is no such thing as a “typical” male or female. Every person is unique and brings his or her own personality and idiosyncrasies to the table. While some of the points below may not apply to everyone, it has been my experience that men and women often have different styles of communication—not only interpersonally, but also in business. Learning how to navigate these differences and leverage one another's strengths has been vital to my success across my career.
Let's start with what I believe women do well. We believe in collaboration. I have no issue calling a group of smart people together to work toward a solution that ultimately will be better than just our individual opinion. In fact, I see this as one of my greatest assets. I have the ability to get to know teammates quickly and develop a rapport, putting them at ease. I like working together as a team and do not feel I need to do it all alone. I really enjoy mentoring and talking to my team constantly about their progress and development.
Now, let's talk about opportunities for growth and improvement. In my experience, women tend to hold onto details and facts differently than men. The difficulty for me has been to narrow the scope of what I communicate to only the most critical items. I finally learned that I don't need to share every piece of data or fact that I have learned.
I need to come into meetings with a focused agenda and not get off track on a less important point. Three main points are much more impactful than 10 less critical points. Too many items also can give the perception of being less focused—even if you have the main point completely under control.
Men, in my experience, are much more direct and succinct when they deliver information, and that's something that I continue to work to incorporate in my delivery.
As a verbal processor of information, I also prefer to talk things out until I have a solution. I think a lot of women in the workforce are like me in this regard. Because of this behavior, the one area I still struggle with is the “drive-by” meeting. You know what I'm talking about—those impromptu times when information is given and assignments are created with no opportunity to ask questions or discuss. These drive-by meetings are a real struggle for me.
So far, the best way I have found to manage them is to find out when the person will have more time to discuss the issue, then set up an appointment for a later time. This allows me time to get my questions organized, which hopefully leads to a better and more productive conversation down the road. If a meeting is not possible, I ask that the initiator of the drive-by email me any background information or data that they have before I make comments or commit to any decisions.
Regardless of whether you're male or female or whether you've been in the workforce a few years or several decades, the most important rule of good communication is to truly listen. When you listen to your audience, you begin to understand what information is most relevant and important to them, and you also begin to see how they prefer to have that information presented.
Being an effective communicator isn't a science; it's an art. Every day is a new opportunity to improve and perfect our communications skills. Let's all work together to embrace it.
Starting with Bridgeston/Firestone in 1993, McNutt worked as a chemist in the raw materials and compounding area for almost 20 years before heading the replacement tire development department for the Bridgestone Americas' North and South America region for consumer tires from its Akron technical center.