I say both women and men must “change” – using masculine and feminine strengths as required at work. If women can succeed only by developing their masculine skills, we’ll just bring more of the same to the top. We won’t have diversity. If women have to do all the “changing,” they risk losing themselves, operating without authenticity and exhausting themselves.
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.”
New research confirms what we know. Being one of very few women in a “male-dominated” organization or field can be stressful. Researchers found high levels of the stress hormone cortisol (“linked with later negative health outcomes”) in women in this situation. Even in industries where women are well represented, men dominate upper levels of management. It is stressful to walk the tightrope of the “double bind” and work to be heard and seen as competent. So my guess is that this research is applicable to many many women in business.
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!