At the end of a recent workshop, a young man pulled me aside. He had used my handout, showing the masculine-feminine continuum) in several dimensions, to observe his own style. (You can download the profile here.) He scored himself on the feminine side of the continuum in several areas. He asked me if my advice to him was the same as it is to women: adopt the most effective style (masculine or feminine) for the particular situation. Yes, I told him. “Read the situation and mindfully shift your style along the continuum.”
What I didn’t advise him to do is to conform to the masculine style. And that is my concern – that women and men conform to the masculine model. If we all do that, first, we lose ourselves and become less authentic. And we perpetuate and ratchet up the imbalance we have in terms of masculine and feminine in the world of work (and the world generally).
It’s just a fact. The business world was created by and for men. Women got there in large numbers only in the last few decades. So naturally workplace behaviors tend toward the masculine. Naturally, traditional definitions of leadership are heavy on masculine qualities. Leaders are decisive, direct, firm, tough and completive. Only recently have theories of leadership embraced more feminine qualities. Note the sub-title to John Gerzema’s book The Athena Doctrine, “How Women (and the Men who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future.”
It is natural for people to observe the behaviors of those most successful (those at the top) – and model their own style accordingly. And still today most of those at the top are male (and white). According to research by the Stanford School of Business, women are rewarded in business by demonstrating certain masculine behaviors – being confident, dominant, assertive and competitive (if they can “self-monitor” and move back toward the feminine side of the masculine-feminine continuum).
Men, too, respond this way. Many men naturally have masculine ways of thinking, acting and leading. But men and women both operate all along the masculine-feminine continuum. Men, like the one who asked me the question, may more naturally operate at the feminine end of the continuum. They may, for example, speak more humbly, influence by persuading, exhibit more collaboration than competitiveness, or make decisions in a more feminine way. Men, even more than women, may play down their feminine strengths. They may fear being seen as unmanly (or, worse, a sissy).
Fritjof Capra in The Tao of Physics, referred to a cultural imbalance in the Eastern terms, yin and yang. Capra argued that this one-sided development is bad for society and pointed to the importance of regaining a balance between the masculine and feminine sides of human nature. That was in 1975. Four decades later, we remain imbalanced.
I don’t want women to become “men” in order to succeed. And I don’t want men becoming more masculine in order to fit in and feel respected. I want men and women to discover the strengths of feminine as well as masculine ways of working and leading. And I want the workplace to honor and leverage both. We know that gender diversity is correlated with greater financial results. Gender balance makes it more likely there will be a balance of masculine and feminine approaches. If we all become masculine – or more masculine – we’ll never see that balance.
Do you find the need to hone your masculine strengths at work? Do you fully use your feminine strengths?
What a topic! What a gathering! Last week Denver hosted the first ever symposium on this topic, Impact Investing with a Gender Lens. The room was crowded with people either experts, interested or involved in some facet of supporting women. I had never connected the dots, to my own work, of some of those facets.
There was discussion of how women earn, save, give and invest – and how in each area, women act and support women throughout the world. We heard statistics I knew – the wage gap, the percentage of women who head households, the huge amount of wealth controlled by women in the U.S. (nearly $12 trillion), and women’s disproportionate share of Americans in poverty. We heard data on women’s more prominent concern for having their investments influence positive social and environmental change and their greater interest in investing in companies with diverse leadership.
We heard from Joseph Keefe, CEO of Pax World Investments. He declared that the business case for gender diversity is so settled that we can stop arguing about it. “There are no arguments on the other side,” he declared. We heard from philanthropic groups, including foundations that fund women’s needs and those, including Capital Sisters, providing micro-finance to women in third-world countries.
Pax identifies U.S. companies with women on their boards – and those with none. They have launched campaigns to show companies what they are losing by having all-male boards. And they have filed shareholder initiatives with boards who don’t voluntarily act to add at least one woman. The Thirty Percent Coalition is a national organization with over 80 members committed to the goal of having women hold 30% of board seats across public companies.
We heard data on how women financial advisors are more likely than male advisors to be interested in using sustainable investing funds (those integrating environmental, social and governance metrics as criteria).
My head is still swimming with all of this. My own focus is and has been one of many facets of achieving gender diversity in leadership. I focus on what gets in the way of women and gender diversity, including unconscious mindsets. This facet (my mission) still has a place. A compelling business case and external forces (like pressure from organizations like Pax World Investments) cannot succeed if we don’t expose and uproot unconscious gender bias.
The symposium widened my lens – and deepened my commitment about the importance of making a reality of gender diversity at all levels of business – and achieving gender balance throughout the world. How do you see gender bias fitting in this bigger context?
Some companies, reports Feintzeig, are finding that setting goals helps. And some create accountability for reaching goals by tying them to pay. In her WSJ piece, “More Firms Say Targets Are the Key to Gender Diversity,” she names J&J, Intel Corp., BASF, Twitter and Pinterest. She reports that firms that set targets have made more progress in seeing women join men at the top.
The upside of setting targets is simple. What gets measured is more likely to get done. Setting targets signals that gender diversity is important and is to be treated as a business objective. And it keeps managers focused on changing attitudes and behaviors. It can break through what I call the “comfort principle” – which BASF’s Chief Diversity Officer calls the natural tendency “for people to sometimes want to hire themselves.”
There are downsides to tying pay to reaching set numbers or percentages of women – e.g., in the hiring pool, number interviewed, or number hired, promoted or given visible assignments. It can incent the wrong behaviors and choices. It enables men to charge reverse discrimination. It can invite cynicism and backlash. (I personally experienced this when a subordinate told me that I had reached the C-level because I was a woman – while I thought it was despite my gender.)
In Europe quotas for women board members have become the norm. The U.S. resists that solution. And I find them troublesome, primarily because of the downsides of targets. But could it help accelerate that “slow march”?
If targets can help companies reap the documented rewards of gender diversity in leadership, what should they be? Any target must be realistic (i.e., achievable). The report by McKinsey and LeanIn.Org concludes that it will take “more than a century until 50% of C-suite executives are female.” The goal of 50% seems unrealistic to me – in 100 years or ever. When we look at all the reasons women don’t reach the C-level, many are fixable (and need fixing). For example, we need to make it easier and more acceptable to balance career and family, assure women get career development, mentors and sponsors, and create workplace cultures where women feel heard and valued.
But even if all of these factors were fixed (my mission), we may still find fewer women than men at the top. If that is because fewer women want the life that goes with being at the top, I am fine with that. What I’m not fine with is having capable and deserving women stall out, give up or exhaust themselves trying to navigate those fixable factors.
What do you think of targets? How about quotas? How do we get the upsides and avoid the down?