The Male Factor by Shaunti Feldhahn

January 12, 2010 | By | 5 Comments

Some of the best advice I received early on in my career was from an older, wiser female friend who had left a big company and had begun her own consulting practice. I was at her office late one Thursday afternoon, as we were getting ready to knock off work and head to a church musical rehearsal scheduled for that night, and all the next day. A fellow consultant called her to ask for input on a proposal. She told him, “Frank, I’m heading out to a meeting now and I’m in meetings all day tomorrow. I’ll look at this over the weekend, and get back to you, Monday.”

As she put down the phone, she looked at me, and said, “Just so you know: Don’t ever tell a man in business that you can’t do something because of personal commitments. You’re ‘in a meeting.’ He doesn’t need to know that it is with your kids’ dentist. If he does, he starts to think this irrational thing that you allow personal life to interfere with work. Don’t even give him the opportunity to go there.

The Male Factor, p. 79

Summary: Many talented women risk undermining their careers without realizing it, simply because they don’t understand how they are perceived by their male colleagues and customers. In The Male Factor, author Shaunti Feldhahn reveals the inner reality behind men’s views. These revelations include:

• Men’s unwritten ‘rules’ of the workplace
• How men perceive workplace emotion
• What common situations with female colleagues most frustrate men – and why
• Why revealing clothing can sabotage a woman’s effectiveness
• Why some men think flextime is fine, but equal compensation for it is not

There is a Christian and general market edition of this book. The major difference is that the former edition includes some additional material from a Christian perspective. I reviewed the Christian edition.

Positives: Feldhahn does a good handling such an emotionally charged subject. She seeks to be fair and balanced and her background as a researcher is evident in the thoroughness of this report. She spent 7 years working on this book and surveyed more than 1,500 men. Included are many direct quotes from men in upper management at Fortune 500 companies. Much of this material is eye-opening, as I found myself frequently being surprised at how differently men and women are regarding certain issues. The book also put to words how men think and operate in the workplace in ways that even I (as a male) wasn’t fully aware of.

Feldhahn does not suggest that it is fair that men get to set the rules. What she does suggest is that women at least know what the unspoken rules are in order to prevent themselves from inadvertently coming across poorly and hurting their chances of promotion. She provides a number of anecdotes and intensely practical tips to back up her findings and advice. Finally, I loved the Christian perspective on setting priorities and living a life that is pleasing to God included at the end of the book.

Negatives: This book felt needlessly long (320 pages) and repeats itself often. It also took awhile to get underway. My biggest complaint, though, is that it is impossible to write a book like this without making a litany of mass generalizations. For example, an early theme was how men are thinkers while women are feelers. Obviously, there are going to be a lot of exceptions.  There is no “one size fits all” in regards to gender differences. This book does uncover helpful patterns, but it is good to also keep in mind that every situation is different and complex. Gender is just one factor. Personalities, upbringing, culture, age, race, level of seniority and social context are other factors that come into play.

I also didn’t feel that this book was as unbiased as it came across.  Feldhahn spends a chapter describing how men are inherently insecure, oversensitive and full of self-doubt. The next chapter is on how women whose dress reveals cleavage are simply wearing the latest fashions and have no idea how visual men are and what a distraction it can be. I was thinking to myself, “Come on Shaunti! You just spent a chapter dealing with how inadequate men feel and then you ascribe the most naive and purest of intentions to women who wear provocative clothing?” I agree that most men struggle with feelings of inadequacy. On the other hand, I also believe that certain women consciously or unconsciously wear things that will tempt men’s thoughts because they desire to be desired. The research methodology is sound, but the author’s editorial comments give an interpretation (and subsequent bias) to the findings.

Summary: As a male reader, this book continually kicked me in the shins. I didn’t always agree with the author’s conclusions or how case studies were so broadly applied. Still, it was beneficial for me to understand additional obstacles, frustrations and challenges that women in the workforce face. Books like this one go a long way in helping men and women understand each other. I found it very helpful.

Rating: 4/5

This book was provided for review by the Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group. To learn more about or purchase this book at RandomHouse.com, click here. For further information, check out book’s website.

I have a free copy of this book to give away. Leave a comment (can be anything) and I will randomly draw a winner on Thursday, January 14 at 9pm EST.

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  1. Valerie says:

    Interesting… enjoyed the review Mark.

  2. patricia says:

    Hi Mark, thanks for some great comments! I am often bugged by one sided thinking and double standards with regards to men and women, even in the workplace and could use some instruction in that area, lol.

    When I was much younger I worked in a male dominated industry in a job no one thought I could do because a woman had never done it. I did quite well in most areas, except when it came to dealing with the men themselves; in fact, I was perplexed by some of their responses. One day I was standing at the bus stop on my way home from work and an older lady also waiting with me asked where I worked. When I told her, she shook her head knowingly and said “Let me give you a piece of advice – never let them know you are a woman”. It was said with a kind of almost bitter, teeth clenched air and I pondered it. Just how was I supposed to hide that I was a woman? Did working with men mean I needed to adopt a male persona and have no feelings? Did I have to become really tough, butch? I’m sure her comment had some truth to it but I was a little turned off by it.

    Since then, I’m sure I’ve made mistakes in that area that sabotaged success I could have enjoyed. So perhaps this book may be helpful. I always appreciate reviews that are honest and thoughtful. Hope your shins are feeling better :)

    • Mark says:

      Patricia! Thank you so much for your comments! The book definitely opened my eyes as to how unfair and one-sided that things can be. I have a much greater understanding as to why you would be bugged – and with good reason!

      I am so sad that I no longer have a copy to giveaway. The contest ended a couple weeks ago and there was only one entry. You would have had a 50% chance of winning! :(

      Anyway, thank you so much for your comment. It is great to get your thoughts!

  3. patricia says:

    Hi Mark, no worries, I will definitely try to secure a copy of it soon!

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