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talkWomen have been in the business workforce for decades now and are about 47% of the Fortune 500 workforce. They are well represented in middle management but not even close to proportionally represented at the top. Lots of companies have tried to correct this. They understand the business value of gender diversity in leadership. But few companies have found the solution. At DifferenceWORKS, we believe the solution is in creating workplaces where both masculine and feminine ways are understood, modeled and valued.

To establish a common definition of what we mean by “feminine” and “masculine,” we use prototypes. Fran represents the prototypical female and so defines “feminine.” Max is the prototypical male and defines “masculine.” All men and women operate along a masculine-feminine continuum. All men and women are a combination of Fran and Max; we are all “Frax.”

Understanding both feminine ways (Fran) and masculine ways (Max) and being able to apply that understanding is being “Frax-wise.”  In the area of communication, Max and Fran speak differently. Max speaks declaratively and confidently, regardless of how sure he is of his point. Fran qualifies her statements even if she is very confident of her point; she expresses her ideas as questions and uses language to avoid sounding “uppity.”

If I am Frax-wise, I know when it is most effective to speak Max – for example, when a client needs assurance that my advice is sound. I know when it is most effective to speak Fran – for example, when I am trying to involve others and make them comfortable. If I am Frax-wise, I know better than to take others literally. When Fran uses disclaimers or hedges or does not take up much meeting time, I do not assume that she does not have good ideas or does not value her own thoughts. I draw her out. When Max speaks declaratively, I do not assume he is an expert; rather, he may be expressing an opinion. I ask him questions and give others a chance to speak.

If I am a Frax-wise leader (called a “sage” in my book), I know that these differences in how people communicate can create obstacles for some and work to lower those obstacles. In many business cultures, the primary language is Max. Someone who speaks Fran can get talked over and feel de-valued. Managers may not feel comfortable with a Fran-speaker and so may not think of Fran when handing out good assignments or their time as mentors. Or they may not see the strengths in Fran’s approach or recognize her leadership accomplishments or potential. She may get passed over. A Frax-wise leader lowers these obstacles. When an organization has a critical mass of leaders who are Frax-wise, men and women (whether they are more like Fran or Max) will feel valued and included;  and gender diversity will happen.

Have you seen Frax-wise leaders who value both Fran’s and Max’s styles of communication? Are you Frax-wise in this area?