When Warren Buffet says it, you have to pay attention. Right? In an essay in Fortune, he speaks up about the importance of leveraging the talents of women as well as men in U.S. business. He says the “ethical case” for having women share top spots with men (i.e., it is the right thing to do) is compelling. But he stresses “self-interest,” what is also called the “business case.” He concludes, “We’ve seen what can be accomplished when we use 50% of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100% can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about America’s future.”
In an interview posted online, Buffet elaborates. He demonstrates that he values intelligence and character, regardless of whether it comes in a male or female package and regardless of race. He acknowledges that he was shaped by a world that kept women “on the shelf,” allowing women essentially three roles outside the home – secretary, teacher and nurse. Over time, he has become a convert. He is awed by how far the U.S. economy has come despite utilizing “half its talent” – men. He is optimistic about U.S. business, largely because business is beginning to tap the strengths of both men and women.
Further, he addresses the question posed by Sheryl Sandberg, women and self-doubt. Acknowledging that men as well as women put limitations on themselves, he focuses on the limitations that society once put on women. He seems truly committed to removing those limitations.
Welcome to the house, Mr. Buffet!
One reason men and women appreciate my book and learn from my workshops is that I avoid stereotyping. I do not talk about “men” and “women” or even “gender.” Instead, I establish a common definition of “masculine” and “feminine.” I show how there is a continuum between the extremes of each. Men and women operate all along what I call the masculine-feminine continuum, demonstrating both masculine and feminine approaches. In other words, I do not believe men and women are from different planets!
Research recently published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology validates my approach. Reviewed in the April 20 New York Times, the research asked the question whether men and women are distinct classifications (the technical term is “taxon”) or whether differences are “dimensional,” with “individual scores dispersed along a single continuum.” The research focused on psychological characteristics associated with behaviors of women and men. It reviewed studies, for example, on how men and women exhibit intimacy, empathy and care-giving. The research did find categorical differences in size, athletic ability and interest in certain hobbies but not in psychological differences.
The report debunks the “Mars/Venus view” of the world. There are not “categorical distinctions based on sex.” On all traits studied, men and women “fell along a continuum.” The conclusion: “[S]ex does not define qualitatively distinct categories of psychological characteristics. We need to look at individuals as individuals.”
Absolutely! We cannot stereotype men and women. We can, however, define categorical distinctions between “masculine” and “feminine” ways of thinking and acting. Individuals, men and women, embody and employ both masculine and feminine traits and ways. Both operate all along the masculine-feminine continuum.
Understanding the differences, and the strengths of both masculine and feminine approaches, can be very useful. It can help us work better with individuals who operate at different points along the masculine-feminine continuum. It can make us more effective as individuals by giving us access to a larger tool kit. It can make us more inclusive leaders, able to eliminate or lower barriers that arise from differences. Having an inclusive culture in which both men and women can thrive and bring their best skills, whether they are masculine or feminine in nature, is very good for business!
Let us stop stereotyping men and women. Let us value the masculine and feminine in all of us!
I am on a mission to dissolve gendered notions of leadership. In recent posts, I have pointed out how we define “self-confidence” and “decisiveness” to match masculine rather than feminine ways of thinking and behaving. By associating attributes of leadership with how the average man (I call him Max) operates, we make it more likely a man will be seen as a potential leader. We make it more likely that the average women (I call her Fran) will be passed over as lacking in leadership.
I have a recent and sad example. I have worked over several years with a very successful young woman. I will call her Ashley. Year after year, both Ashley and the team she led had the top results in their division. Yet Ashley was passed over for promotion to the next level. When she was told she was not selected for the job she wanted, Ashley’s boss told her that those who interviewed her were not sure she could “lead from the front.” Even though they knew her leadership style got great results, it was different from how leadership has historically looked.
On the masculine-feminine continuum that I explore in my book, Difference Works, one area is How We Motivate (formerly called “work style.”). This area has to do with what energizes us and how we motivate others. On Max’s side of this continuum is “Competition.” On Fran’s side is “Collaboration.” Max (who has more testosterone) competes; he fights to win, get to the top, and gain status. Max sees and exercises power in a hierarchical, top-down way. This is surely what my friend’s boss meant by “leading from the front.”
Ashley did not lead that way. She led from the side and from the rear. She operated on Fran’s side of this continuum, being strong at collaborating. She exercised power though her team. Notwithstanding how well this worked, she was not seen as a leader. Only those who operated like Max were seen as potential leaders. The person who got the job Ashley wanted was a man who had never led others and had much lower results; he was “one of the guys.” This is not supposed to happen in 2013! What a loss, not only for Ashley but for her company.
While collaboration is valued in the workplace, those who lead collaboratively may not fit the gendered image of leadership. Quoting myself, “We will get gender diversity at the top in business – which is a very good thing for the bottom line – only when we expand our definitions of leadership. We will have a level playing field only when we focus on results more than on whether someone got the result in a “masculine” way.”
How do you think we can get rid of gendered definitions of leadership?