Cultivating Positive Relationships in the Workplace
By Daryl Conner
Stroll through the brightly-lit, colorful background of any pet styling show in the country and one fact will become immediately clear; the grooming industry is predominantly populated by women. From girls in their teens to ladies who refuse to lay down their shears and retire, grooming is primarily women’s work. While men can certainly have what it takes to be excellent groomers, it is plain to see that they are outnumbered in the groom room; experts estimate that the grooming workforce is about 85% female.
A career working with pets is a natural fit for many women. Carol Visser, NCMG, said, “I am not sure if it cultural or not, but the use of persuasion rather than demand has been habituated in women. Most of us are smaller and have less upper body strength than our male counterparts, and we learn early on that we can’t out-muscle. We compensate in ways that make us uniquely well adapted to working with animals.” Add to this the fact that in our society the essence of being gentle, kind, empathetic and nurturing are considered to be typically feminine, and it is plain to see why so many of us are drawn to careers with pets.
What can be done to bring out the best qualities in each employee to create an environment in which Grooming Goddess can thrive?
Grooming environments tend to be small businesses. The combination of an intimate workplace, and a population of mostly women, sets up a different dynamic than one found in a larger, more impersonal setting. People who work in the field of human communication agree that men and women differ in the manner that they interact. Simma Lieberman, author of Putting Diversity to Work (www.simmalieberman.com) gives some succinct examples on her website:
- Women are more relationship oriented, and look for commonalities and ways to connect with other women. Men tend to relate to other men on a one-up, one-down basis. Status and dominance is important.
- Women focus on building rapport, by sharing experiences and asking questions. Men like to tell and give information rather than ask questions. They share experiences as a way of being one-up.
- If women have a disagreement with each other it affects all aspects of their relationship. Men can have a disagreement, move on to another subject and go get a drink together.
- Women offer help and advice as a sign of caring. For men, to ask for help reflects an inability to achieve on one’s own merit.
Louise Rothery, author of Lest We Forget: A Salute to the Women Who Entered Corporate America Without a Road Map, had some excellent insight on helping a mostly female workplace run smoothly. She said “The person who owns the business sets the tone. They should take a good look at their management style and make sure they are setting an example of how employees should act. They should also provide a good, clear job description for each job, and make it clear that other employees should not impinge on each other’s territory.”
Rothery recommends monthly staff meetings so that coworkers can deal with potential problems as they arise. Meetings where all employees are allowed and encouraged to participate work particularly well for female staff because collaboratively talking through issues is one way women typically problem-solve. The owner should, “act as a facilitator, keeping the meeting constructive. Don’t let it become a ‘bitch’ session.”
The message to employees should be clear, “We are all professionals and have customers we need to make happy. If you have a problem, don’t take it to each other, bring it to me.” Gossiping can be a form of bullying, and it should not be tolerated.
When hiring a new person, I look for several key qualities:
They must be likable. We’re all working together. They must be nice to the pets. They must have good people skills and a pleasant, clean, and tidy appearance. They have to have the qualities of any professional employee, such as honesty, reliability, etc. Donna Cleverdon
Rothery continues, “The employer should immediately address the problem with the employee(s) involved. The boss can and should act as judge and jury, keeping in mind that a boss is just a boss, but a good leader inspires others to want to do what they are doing.”
So, how does a good leader keep their staff working compatibly? Barbara Bird, a grooming educator who also has a Master’s degree in Social Work says, “Women tend to need more acknowledgements of their feelings. Acknowledgment and validation of feelings is more critical in a female workplace. Failure to acknowledge and validate feelings often leads to “hurt” feelings and withholding of other communication. The employee with hurt feelings often withdraws and shuts down.”
When an employee clams up and refuses to participate in give and take they will typically claim everything is “fine” even when it clearly is not. Women tend to use this technique when they do not know how to articulate what is bothering them or are afraid to rock the boat. Refusing to discuss problems increases the power of the employee who will not talk by decreasing the power of the employer. After all, if they refuse to discuss the problem they hold all the cards.
Having experienced that behavior in my own workplace, I asked Rothery how she recommended dealing with employees who utilize the silent treatment to deal with an uncomfortable situation. She said, “Confront them gently. Say ‘You seem to be having a bad day, but you can’t let this mood get in the way of the function of the shop. We are professionals and you are expected to act accordingly.’ Make sure there is a standard of behavior that is adhered to and that everyone knows about it.”
She recommends lots of positive reinforcement for professional behavior. “It’s a bit like training the dogs you work with, give lots of praise!”
Donna Cleverdon from Cleverdog Grooming and Daycare for Dogs, Inc. ( Silver Spring, MD,) employs approximately 20 women. She says, “I think one of the most important aspects of employing women is being flexible. Women are still the primary care-givers in families. Bosses have to recognize this and be patient and understanding. We all pull together to cover for someone who is out due to family emergencies. I once had a boss who would pull a guilt trip on me when my son was sick. I never forgot that. In my experience, a good employee will appreciate this understanding and reward it with hard work and loyalty.”
Cleverdon also says she believes in treating employees as she would wish to be treated. “I try to be prompt and up-front with constructive criticism. My employees get sick pay, vacation pay, insurance, a retirement benefit, and interest-free personal loans. They know they are getting a good deal. They also work very hard, show up on time, and enjoy their work. One thing to remember is that if a person has a serious personality problem, you cannot fix that. You can fix a groom, or compensate a client, but you cannot fix people. If someone is a continual problem in the workplace, get rid of her. Your business will run better without that problem employee.” Terminating difficult employees helps send the message that inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated.
Utilizing some of the techniques above can help to harness the finest qualities of women. Lieberman lists:
Strengths Associated with Women at Work
- Harmony, balance, nurturance, serenity, creativity and vision
- Teamwork and collaboration
- Detail oriented
I would add to that list the virtues of compassion, loyalty, empathy, intuition, and kindness. These are gifts that grooming goddesses can bring to the pet care environment. The creation of a positive work space where clear communication is the rule of the day benefits the employers, staff, customers and most importantly, the precious pets in our care. ▲
Daryl Conner is a certified Petcare Dermatech Specialist, Master Pet Stylist, Meritus and Certified Master Cat Groomer. A contributing editor to Pet Age Magazine, Daryl’s musings have also been found in Dog World, Groomer to Groomer, and on many Internet sites. She is the recipient of the coveted 2005 Cardinal Crystal Award for Journalism and the ’06 and ’07 awards for Congeniality, Daryl is proud to be the U.S. Ambassador for the German Red Clipper. Known for her fun and informative educational classes at grooming shows across the country, Daryl’s grounded, friendly style makes her an approachable and popular teacher. With over 25 years of grooming experience, Daryl’s abiding love of animals and passion for our trade radiates out to everyone she touches through her work.
Web Site: www.darylconner.com