I know that the best results occur when they are achieved not by homogeneous, but by heterogeneous groups. I have shown how a balance of masculine and feminine approaches, in particular, can lead to better decisions than those of groups dominated by either masculine or feminine ways of thinking and behaving. I argue the point that unleashing this business advantage requires leaders who understand and appreciate feminine as well as masculine ways of working.
I think most of us recognize masculine ways of working and understand the strengths of this approach. The masculine approach involves organizing things in hierarchies, applying linear (left brain) thinking, competing to win, keeping the eye on the goal, giving clear commands, speaking in declarations, separating work life and personal life, and handling conflict directly and efficiently.
Do we know what “feminine approaches to work” are? Are we as clear about the strengths of the feminine? Today’s workplace reflects the values and norms of yesterday’s workplace, which was predominantly male. Even though women now constitute nearly half of the workforce, the workforce remains more masculine than balanced.
I cut my business teeth in this environment. I learned to model my behavior after how things were done by those most successful in the organization—those at the top. I conformed. I assumed that this was just the way it worked. Like all of us, I was raised in a culture in which masculine ways are valued more than feminine ways. I, too, associated leadership and excellence with masculine ways–and judged those with more feminine approaches as “not leadership material.” I developed new habits—masculine habits. My feminine skills atrophied.
I do not think I am the only successful business woman to do this. It was not wrong or dishonest. It worked and we were rewarded. But many of us lost sight of the strengths of feminine ways in ourselves and others. Because this is now my work, I have regained a clear understanding of how the feminine shows up at work and the strengths of feminine approaches. The feminine approach involves organizing groups in flat networks, applying intuitive (right brain) thinking, collaborating, gathering and synthesizing information and points of view, persuading, involving, processing, listening, mixing personal and work issues, and avoiding conflict.
My understanding of the feminine approach to work is still largely intellectual and “left-brained,” a masculine way of knowing. I am working on a deeper (more feminine) appreciation of feminine ways of working and being. I value my masculine strengths. I am learning to value my feminine strengths. I know that today’s workplace requires that we fully leverage the strengths—and avoid the limitations—of both approaches. How can I teach leaders to do that if I do not truly embrace both?
Where do you see and experience the value of feminine approaches to work?