Rich and I delivered a well-received workshop at the third annual WILD Summit (Women Inspiring Leadership Development from the Women’s Council of the Leeds School of Business at CU). We framed as choice (the conference theme) the ability to value and leverage both masculine and feminine strengths. We demonstrated that being able to choose which is most effective in a particular situation is an important career skill. Appreciating both approaches makes one a better and more inclusive leader; the result is broader team engagement, leading to better results. We tackled the subject of how masculine-feminine differences run up against unconscious biases or mindsets, creating obstacles for women in business – and, therefore, gender diversity.
Why does the typical man handle conflict more directly than the typical woman? I believe there are deep roots to the differences in masculine and feminine style of conflict – in nature and nurture. Differences may be rooted in hormonal differences and how children play. In other words, changing how we individually tend to handle conflict takes conscious effort.
After my Huffington Post article on styles of managing conflict, I continued to brood about my own way of handling conflict. Conflict has been particularly ineffective for me when it is with another woman. I find little redeeming value in the feminine (indirect) approach to conflict. And yet I have had little luck doing direct conflict (the masculine style) with women. When women have a dispute, it seems, both need to practice a direct but gentle form of conflict and manage the inevitable emotions.
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!
Why do companies with women on their boards get better financial results and have higher stock prices? A recent New York Times opinion suggests it is because women make better decisions under stress. There are both masculine and feminine approaches to making decisions. When there is gender diversity in a group, it is more likely that there will be both kinds of decision process. It is the balance of these approaches to making decisions that explain better outcomes. Having women on boards enables this balance.
At the intersection of gender and generational differences are commonalities among women of all generations; there are also areas where conflict is more intense than for men of the different generations. Differences in masculine and feminine approaches do not change much generation to generation. Perspectives value and needs cut across the generations. The generational tensions over balancing work and family is more intense among women who have made different choices. And women are more bothered by the informal, revealing attire of younger women. Awareness of this may help women be more supportive of women of other generations.