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.
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.
When you need to solve a novel and important problem, what kind of leader do you want in charge? Does the word “decisive” make your list? What do we mean by “decisive”? Usually we mean the masculine decision style – moving straight to the goal. While this is often effective, the feminine decision style has different benefits, including creativity and buy-in. The feminine style is to gather ideas, synthesize and process. It takes more time but can avoid costly misses. The best leaders can make decisions in both masculine and feminine ways and value both ways in others.
A recent study in the UK concludes that women are seen as just as good, or even better, leaders than men in areas including business. The issue is not whether men or women are better leaders. All women do not think or lead the same – just as men do not. I join John Gerzema in the proposition that leaders today need both masculine and feminine strengths. The point is to raise feminine leadership style (in both men and women) to a position equal to masculine leadership style – to value both.
Men in my workshops used to hesitate to claim feminine strengths, perhaps concerned they would be called a “sissy.” In my book and workshops, I use prototypes for masculine and feminine – Max and Fran. Men in our workshops seem comfortable acknowledging their “Fran” strengths. Maybe it is because more of them understand the value of gender diversity. Some may be convinced, e.g., by the work of McKinsey & Co. and John Gerzema, that leadership must include feminine as well as masculine perspectives. Valuing feminine strengths personally enables authenticity, effectiveness and health. Valuing feminine strengths in others contributes to inclusivity, which drives engagement and results.
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.