At Halloween we enjoy putting on costumes and masks. At work, we sometimes assume roles. Doing so can have two opposite effects. It can undermine engagement — or promote effectiveness. The natural tendency to adapt in order to “fit in” can undermine engagement if we do it unconsciously and lose authenticity. But we can consciously shift our approach (e.g., from feminine to masculine) in order to be more effective Shifting in the latter way is no more inauthentic than speaking a foreign language in order to be understood,.
Leigh Buchanan’s article talks about a new book by John Gerzema, “Between Venus and Mars.” I see many parallels. Both our work and Gerzema’s are based upon the importance of employee engagement to productivity and profitability. We both see that women have typically conformed to masculine workplace values and styles. Most important, we agree that the workplace needs both masculine and feminine styles of leadership and that the best leaders combine strengths of both. We agree that the best decisions result from having both masculine and feminine thinkers involved and find value in both masculine and feminine forms of communication. We need more women in leadership because a balance of men and women means we are more likely to have a balance of masculine and feminine strengths. And that leads to better business results.
To avoid stereotyping, I use a prototype named Fran to describe feminine approaches to work and a prototype named Max to represent masculine approaches. All of us are both Fran and Max; we are “Frax.” A person who understands and appreciates both approaches can be “Frax-wise. in the sphere of personal effectiveness, a Frax-wise individual can shift his or her approach depending on the circumstance. In the sphere of relationships — working with and leading others — being Frax-wise enables one to appreciate and leverage difference, increasing engagement. In the sphere of organization, Frax-wise leaders understand how differences in Fran and Max create obstacles to gender diversity — and eliminate them.
More and more studies link gender diversity and higher returns. Some suggest this is because of unique ways women lead. I disagree. All women do not lead alike. Both men and women lead in masculine ways; both have “feminine” elements to their leadership. The best leaders value and leverage both masculine and feminine strengths. When they do, more people feel valued — and engaged. Having more women at the top makes it more likely a group will have a balance of masculine and feminine strengths; more likely more people are engaged; more likely decisions will be better.
Common sense — and studies — confirm that engaged people do better work and are more likely to stay. Engagement is linked with retention, productivity and profitability. Feeling different — like an “outsider” — can undermine engagement.Spending energy figuring out the rules and fitting in takes energy away from quality and efficiency. In today’s diverse workforce, leaders cannot engage everyone the same. Leaders must understand and appreciate difference to have broad engagement.
Being different (in gender) from my peers, I got a taste of how this affects one’s energy. When I got involved in diversity initiatives, I understood how much energy people put into “fitting in.” This is energy that could be redirected to the quantity and quality of work. An inclusive culture gets better results because more people feel valued!