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.
To avoid stereotyping, I use a prototype named Fran to describe feminine approaches to work and a prototype named Max to represent masculine approaches. All of us are both Fran and Max; we are “Frax.” A person who understands and appreciates both approaches can be “Frax-wise. in the sphere of personal effectiveness, a Frax-wise individual can shift his or her approach depending on the circumstance. In the sphere of relationships — working with and leading others — being Frax-wise enables one to appreciate and leverage difference, increasing engagement. In the sphere of organization, Frax-wise leaders understand how differences in Fran and Max create obstacles to gender diversity — and eliminate them.
Recent discussions on the “Millennials” (Generation Y) focus on (negative) stereotypes and on similarities. An HBR blog says we exaggerate differences and should focus on similarities. I agree that we exaggerate differences but do not think the solution is in ignoring them. We can be “generation blind” no more than we can be “color blind” in dealing with racial differences. Recognizing differences enables us to see strengths and to leverage differences.
Sandberg’s advice fits into a large genre of advice for women on how to succeed in the masculine workplace. She correctly says women need to appear more confident. The typical man speaks with confidence even when he is wrong; the typical woman speaks more hesitantly even when she is sure. While advising women to learn to speak more confidently, we need to encourage leaders to understand the gender differences in communication. Translate vs. taking literally. Bilingual cultures (inclusive cultures) allow women to feel valued and be engaged. That’s good for business.
Common sense — and studies — confirm that engaged people do better work and are more likely to stay. Engagement is linked with retention, productivity and profitability. Feeling different — like an “outsider” — can undermine engagement.Spending energy figuring out the rules and fitting in takes energy away from quality and efficiency. In today’s diverse workforce, leaders cannot engage everyone the same. Leaders must understand and appreciate difference to have broad engagement.