We may argue about the differences between men and women at work, but there is one truth no one can deny. There continues to be a gender gap at almost every company — both a gap in promotion to senior leadership roles and a gap in salaries for comparable roles.

There’s been a lot of thinking about why this difference between men and women in the workplace persists. Is it because of sexist biases and barriers? Because of maternity leave? Because women are not as good at promoting themselves? The explanations abound — and still the gap persists.

Looking for differences between men and women at work

Everyone “knows” that there are gender differences in workplace behavior. For example, people often say that women are more collaborative and men are more competitive. But are these actual behavioral differences or differences in the expectations and perceptions of men and women?

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review analyzed the results of a wide variety of studies to examine this question. Before you read the article’s findings, take this brief quiz:

Test your knowledge about the differences between men and women in the workplace

The truth about gender differences at work

If you clicked through to see your results, you may have had a couple assumptions about gender roles in the workplace debunked. First, as is often the case, much of what we “know” to be true about differences between groups of people is incorrect. This is the case whether we are talking about gender, race, generations, ethnic groups, etc.

Second, and even more significantly, when it comes to women and men in the workplace, our beliefs about behavioral differences between individuals are mostly wrong. Gender simply does not play a big role in how we carry ourselves at work. The true differences are about the context, the system in which men and women work. It is how others react to men and women that differs.

This has powerful implications for how we eliminate gender issues in the workplace. We should spend less time coaching women on how to behave differently at work. Women are already acting pretty much the same way men do. Instead, we should coach both men and women about how to respond to both genders in the same way, so that we level the playing field and enable the top performers, both male and female, to be recognized and rewarded appropriately.

If you or your organization needs help closing the gender gap, let’s talk.

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