caveman gender imageRemember the cartoon of the caveman dragging the cavewoman by the hair?  No one knows if this depicted reality, but most of us grew up with the image.  It is embedded in our psyches as an unconscious image of gender relations.  Are you bristling yet?

The caveman-cavewoman image suggests one element of the beginning of gender relations: In the absence of language, size and strength were disproportionately influential.  Additionally, since the average cave dwellers (who actually lived on the savannah) only lived to about 16, they missed the opportunity to develop more “mature” relationships in their bi-gender pairs.  Imagine if today’s gender relations were solely determined by early adolescents!

Accelerated by the women’s movement in the 1960’s, there has been a steady increase in societal awareness of gender inequities , as well as in the understanding that “masculine” and “feminine” are descriptors that refer to much more than physiology.  Caroline’s use of the “bell curve” to describe the distribution of “masculine” and “feminine” qualities among both genders helps forward this understanding.

As we better understand the value of the “masculine” and “feminine” for both genders, we are more able to watch and appreciate the process of our own evolution, and even affect it.  At the same time, we are still dealing, often unconsciously, with the vestigial inertia of the “might makes right” world of the caveman, e.g. business organizations based on the military model, the elevation of individual achievement and competition over collaborative success.

Is this the right time for accelerating this process?  John Gerzema surveyed 64,000 people in 13 countries.  Of the adults he interviewed, 66% agreed with this statement: “The world would be a better place if men thought more like women.”  His research further indicates that the most economically developed countries are those that are the most balanced in thinking in masculine and feminine ways.  Gerzema claims, “Feminine values are ascendant.”  And they pay off.

Does this mean men are doomed?  Hardly.  This rethinking of the masculine and feminine liberates men to adopt more characteristics like social awareness, collaboration and empathy traditionally considered “feminine.”  And women can be freer to demonstrate traditionally “masculine” qualities like competitiveness, assertiveness and analytical thinking. What’s the benefit of such “psychological androgyny” for society?  Almost by definition, it levels the playing field between the genders, furthering equality quite naturally.  And it allows each individual to actualize his/her potential and contribute more fully to the common good. It allows more men who are sensitive; more women who are assertive.

It can be difficult to assess the current of the evolutionary river that carries us along.  Some are impelled to swim against it.  Most believe we are moving in the right direction.  Still, those of us who are aware of the slow speed of the current, and more importantly, of the obstacles retarding its progress, have an obligation to work, each in our own way, to advance gender equality and a broader view of the feminine and the masculine.  Other forms of equality have been actively fostered and embedded in our society over the last century, to the benefit of all.  While the shrinking of the gender gap has had many articulate advocates, it lacks the groundswell necessary to advance it sufficiently to provide that level playing field for our children and grandchildren.  By focusing on a future of equality that appreciates the feminine and the masculine in everyone, we are all more likely, in our daily and momentary decisions, to add to the momentum needed to achieve that vision.

How are you contributing to our evolution?


two heads diverse decisionsI just proved to myself the old adage that two heads get better outcomes than one. I was also reminded that having two heads, especially heads that think differently, is harder!

I had drafted a proposal for a joint presentation by my colleague Stewart Hirsch and me. Thinking it was good, I sent it to him for his comment (actually his blessing). The final product was much better than my initial draft.

We preach this stuff in our workshops. Diversity is linked with better decisions; diverse groups bring multiple perspectives and ideas to a project. A study by Kellogg School of Management demonstrates why diverse groups get better outcomes. Heterogeneous groups process information more carefully than homogenous groups. When one person who is different (diverse in some way) joins a homogeneous group, the original group does not know what the new person will say or how he or she thinks. So they pay more attention.

I have written blogs on why organizations with diverse and inclusive cultures get better results and why inclusion and diversity are linked with innovation and better decisions. I was reminded of this working on this proposal. Working with Stewart, whose perspectives and ways of thinking are different from mine, paid dividends. Diversity pays!

As a practical matter, though, working with diverse groups is harder than working with homogeneous ones. Collaborating with people who think differently than we do is harder than working alone or with people who agree with us. When I sent the draft to Stewart, I was expecting a short, easy process. Two long phone calls and four e-mails later, we were done. I must admit that I was a little defensive when he suggested certain changes. Some of his suggestions I simply did not like. Some of them were great. The process was five times harder than writing the initial draft. But the push and pull made for a much better document – and was worth the effort.

Where have you experienced the benefit of working with people different from yourself?

iceberg of women's issuesAt DifferenceWORKS, we focus on the issue of gender diversity at the leadership level of the corporate world. This issue is important; businesses do better when co-led by men and women. And such businesses are more likely to be good community citizens and have a positive influence on the major issues affecting our planet.

Our area of focus, though, is at the tip of a large “iceberg.” We focus on the higher economic brackets of the most prosperous nations in the world. I pause to reflect on the larger context, the other levels of the issue.

First, the leadership level in the corporate world is not the only arena where women continue to be under-represented and under-compensated. The numbers in the corporate world (women are nearly half of all Fortune 500 employees but only 14% of executive officers and 8% of the highest paid) are reflected in other arenas. A national study by the Colorado Women’s College, University of Denver shows that women lag in both positional advancement and pay in academia, K-12 education, journalism, arts and entertainment, medicine, the military and the nonprofit sector. Corporate women are not alone.

Second, while women in business and many of these other sectors earn enough to be self-sufficient, many women do not. The Colorado-based study “The Status of Women & Girls in Colorado” by The Women’s Foundation of Colorado in partnership with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research” concludes,

“The persistent gender wage gap, women’s prevalence in low-paid and female-dominated occupations, the high costs of child and elder care services, and women’s relatively fewer hours of paid employment compared with men’s make women more vulnerable to poverty and more likely to face economic insecurity.”

In Colorado, families headed by single mothers have the lowest median annual income of all families. It falls far below the self-sufficiency standard (the amount necessary to support a family without public or private assistance). In 2011, 30% of women 18 and older had incomes near or below the federal poverty standard. The wage gap, according to this study, is actually largest among men and women with at least a bachelor’s degree. The numbers are far worse for women of color than white women.

This study also addresses personal safety and provides troubling statistics on domestic and sexual violence in Colorado. Violence against women is a global issue. Jimmy Carter’s new book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence & Power, addresses what Carter calls “the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge . . . the deprivation and abuse of women and girls.”

The challenges faced by corporate women exist in a world where women have far more serious challenges. I have to believe there are common causes, below and above the surface of this iceberg. In the corporate world, little remains of overt discrimination or conscious bias. The issues are more subtle; biases show up as unconscious mindsets. Even unconscious biases, though, have far-reaching and profound impact.

Do you agree that similar ways of thinking drive all these issues? Please comment below!


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