Discussions of gender diversity often involve stereotyping. I avoid that. Both men and women have and use both masculine and feminine approaches. I use prototypes to create a common understanding of masculine and feminine. I present workshops with a male colleague; we illustrate the point that we both move along the masculine-feminine continuum. Gender diversity in leadership is good business not because women have magic. It is because there is more likely to be a balance of masculine and feminine approaches. The business gets the advantages of both.
Masculine and feminine expectations about workplace relationships are different. Differences in brain structure, hormones and cultural influences explain these differences. The masculine approach is less intimate and personal than the feminine. There are advantages and limitations of both approaches. The masculine approach s allows one to work with someone you don’t like. It separates business and personal issues. Conflict is less personal. The feminine approach is warmer and contributes to trust and workplace community (important to younger generations). The masculine approach can seem cool and disregard personal aspects of business issues. The feminine approach can inappropriately mix personal and business issues and make workplace conflict more personal.
The masculine and feminine ways of expressing ourselves and, literally, of talking are different. The masculine approach is to maximize and declare, speaking with certitude. Confidence breeds confidence so Max (our prototype for the masculine) will benefit by getting assignments and promotions. Its downsides are that it can sound arrogant and over promise. The feminine approach is to minimize, disclaim and qualify. Fran (our feminine prototype) may sound self-deprecating. Her ideas may not be heard or credited to her. But her form of speech is valuable when one needs to signal humility and respect for another’s superiority.
A 2011 study by Stanford School of Business says that the most promotions in their study went to women who can demonstrate certain masculine strengths (assertiveness, dominance, confidence, aggressiveness) BUT who can “self-monitor” and balance such behaviors with feminine behaviors. Successful women must be assertive and confident to make it into management — but not “too” assertive or confident. That’s the double bind. Women must also leverage feminine strengths — building community, collaborating, synthesizing multiple ideas, creating inclusive teams, etc. Both men and women are better leaders if they can model and leverage both masculine and feminine ways of leading. Leaders must appreciate both and create inclusive cultures where both are valued.