The Double Bind; What Can We DO about It?

Unconscious mind-sets are at the root of the barriers that cause women in business to disengage and not reach their potential. These are the obstacles to gender diversity. One is the “double bind.” If you are aware of this (it is not unconscious), you can alter your thinking and behavior. Women can whine and call “unfair” (it isn’t). But it is a reality. They can improve their skill of reading situations and choosing whether to operate in a masculine or feminine way. They can help others see this invisible barrier but must avoid defensiveness.

Influencing Two Ways: Valuing Masculine and Feminine Approaches

The masculine form of influencing others is based on a hierarchical world-view. The feminine form is based on building and maintaining relationships. Those (men and women) who influence in a masculine way command, tell, and demonstrate dominance. Men and women who influence in a feminine way do so through persuasion. We can wisely use our understanding of these differences, and the strengths of each approach, to be more effective. Our understanding and appreciation of these differences enables us to be more inclusive. Leader who appreciate these differences are aware that they can create obstacles, for example, for feminine leaders who do not “lead from the front.” They can see leadership strengths in those who lead collaboratively.

Being Bilingual: Speaking and Appreciating Masculine and Feminine “Language”

There are two “languages” in the workplace — masculine and feminine. We use the term “Frax-wise” to describe people who understand, appreciate and leverage both masculine and feminine ways. (We are all “Frax,” a combination of Fran, the feminine prototype, and “Max,” the masculine.) If I am personally Frax-wise, I know which “language” is most effective in which circumstances. In working with others, as a Frax-wise person, I do not take speech styles literally; I know Fran may simply not be expressing his or her ideas powerfully and Max (though sounding confident) may be expressing an opinion. As a Frax-wise leader, I understand that these differences may create obstacles for those who speak “Fran” and I can lower those obstacles. I can be an inclusive leader and get the upsides of gender diversity.

Differences: Moving from Judgment to Appreciation

Differences can be the source of judgment and tension. Understanding can lower judgment and enable appreciation and leveraging. The sequence is: awareness, understanding, appreciation, leveraging. If we can understand and appreciate masculine-feminine differences, we gain insights and skills that enable us to appreciate and leverage all kinds of differences.