Recently at the end of a workshop, a participant said he understood that people, women particularly, need to shift to a masculine style to succeed. Than he asked, “We want workplace culture itself to shift and become more balanced, right?” He had summed up the purpose of my work. I want a world where masculine and feminine ways are modeled in leadership and valued in business cultures.
She is “helpful” but “too assertive.” He “shows initiative” and “solves problems.” Research shows that the language used in performance reviews for men and women is very different. The language clearly reflects underlying gender bias. Can making managers more aware of their language actually uproot and change gender biases?
In many parts of the world, women’s voices are suppressed. In our western culture, in particular in the U.S. corporate world, women’s voices are not “suppressed.” But they are often not fully heard. Why not? Let me suggest four challenges, with the hope that awareness can help us better hear women’s voices right here in the USA. The feminine style of speech sounds less confident. Women assert themselves only when they really know. Women get “talked over.” And women who do speak up face the “double bind.”
The term “mansplain” has been coined to describe this: someone who talks as if he or she knows something – and does not listen to what someone else does know. It describes when someone dominates a conversation rather than having a dialogue. Women do it, too; but the term suggests men do it more. I explore reasons for this, including sources from the masculine end of the masculine-feminine continuum. A friend suggests that male birds attract and impress female with bright plumage. Lacking that, human males dominate conversations. I’d prefer plumage to mansplaining!
Why do women not speak up (as much as men) in meetings? The real reason, say Sharyl Sandberg and Adam Grant in their NYT series, is the “double bind.” If women don’t speak up, hold the floor and speak with confidence, they are not heard or seen as leaders. If they do, they are seen as aggressive (called the “B-word”). They offer some suggestions. I add my own.
Joanne Lipman’s recent article in the WSJ provides a “guide” for men to women at work. She says that women get enough advice and provides some to men. Men should understand that women have a different way of speaking; they should not wait for women to raise their hands; they should not fear that a woman will cry and should give direct feedback. And they should recognize that women work hard for the credibility that comes automatically to them. Good advice!