In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg points to internal barriers that hold women back. Many are just “feminine” ways. Women are wired and acculturated to value relationships more than status and to avoid bragging. This looks like lower ambition. Women tend to speak more humbly; this looks like lower confidence. I agree that, to make it to the top, women must demonstrate ambition and confidence. But my hope is that one day leaders will understand and appreciate feminine as well as masculine style and see leadership in both.
In my book and blogs, I explore differences in masculine and feminine approaches to work — e.g., the value of relationships, structure, decision-making, work style and communication style. There are strengths and limitations to the feminine approach. One limitation is in selling products, services and one’s self. The feminine approach avoids the hard sell and tooting one’s own horn. I teach this difference. Yet I am personally hampered by the feminine approach to self-promotion. I have hired a coach to help me LEARN to toot my own horn and be more effective at having others see the value of what I offer.
Sandberg’s advice fits into a large genre of advice for women on how to succeed in the masculine workplace. She correctly says women need to appear more confident. The typical man speaks with confidence even when he is wrong; the typical woman speaks more hesitantly even when she is sure. While advising women to learn to speak more confidently, we need to encourage leaders to understand the gender differences in communication. Translate vs. taking literally. Bilingual cultures (inclusive cultures) allow women to feel valued and be engaged. That’s good for business.