When we talk about “gender bias,” we generally assume we’re talking about a bias against women. Not so fast. The issue is less about men and women and more about a preference for the masculine style. This affects men as well.
Yes, there is progress in seeing more women at leadership levels in business; but the pace remains glacial. We need to understand the reasons at the deepest level – so we can pick up the pace and capture the known benefits. I was invited to post a blog on the London School of Economics Business Review. I used the opportunity to express my thoughts on the root cause. I hope you’ll read it!
It concerns me that, in the corporate workplace, women and men conform to the masculine model. If we all do that, first, we lose ourselves and become less authentic. Equally important, we perpetuate and ratchet up the imbalance we have in terms of masculine and feminine in the world of work (and the world generally). I don’t want women to become “men” in order to succeed. And I don’t want men becoming more masculine in order to fit in and feel respected. I want men and women to discover the strengths of feminine as well as masculine ways of working and leading.
Have you ever seen people not only judge, but actually fear, a way of doing things different from their own way? I already knew that leaders may not think of women because they do not “look the part.” Now I know they may actually fear giving assignments and promotions to a woman. They have a harder time envisioning her succeeding. And they may fear that her different (feminine) approach will not get as good a result as the more common (masculine) approach.
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!
A colleague suggested that we might attract more people, particularly men, to our cause if we emphasize, not gender diversity, but the business benefits of gender inclusion. Another author and facilitator reminded me that we get better results by focusing on what we want rather than on the “problem” we are trying to solve. Help me apply these two insights. If we invite people to a workshop about organizational culture and results, do we indicate up front, or once they are in the room, that the drivers we focus on are inclusive leadership and gender diversity? I want to focus on the desired outcome (businesses that thrive because of gender diversity) and not the “problem” (unconscious gender bias). How do we effectively address unconscious bias?