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In my work (consulting, training and coaching), I advocate for workplaces that value, model and leverage both “masculine” and “feminine” approaches.  There is a business case for this; leaders and businesses that leverage both approaches do better. I am not talking about gender (men and women)–although a workplace with gender balance is more likely to be more balanced in terms of masculine and feminine approaches than one that is all or mostly either men or women. 

To create common understanding of what we mean by “masculine” and “feminine” approaches, I delve into the research about how men vs. women generally see things and behave.  I define “masculine” by how a prototypical male (not the men I am talking to) is most likely to see and do things and “feminine” by how a prototypical female (not the women in the room) is most like to see and do things.  In describing the perspectives and approaches of the prototypes, I call upon research on gender differences from nature (our physiology) and nurture (how our behavior is shaped by the norms of culture).

I am fascinated by the relatively new science on gender differences.  Several experts now say that the “female brain” and the “male brain” have important differences.  These differences seem to underlie differences in how the prototypical male and female think, value relationships and pursue a goal.  Other differences in nature include hormones (testosterone and oxytocin), the tearing mechanism and even our smile muscles!

If brain structure, hormones and other physiological factors alone drove our behaviors and approaches, men and women would be inevitably hard-wired, totally predictable and unable to change or learn new behaviors. That obviously isn’t the case. Whether an individual’s physiology is marked by a “male” brain and testosterone or a “female” brain and oxytocin seems to set up a preference or a default “set point.”  I want your thoughts on factors that can influence our “set point” and enable us to learn and flex to take advantage of an approach different from our default approach.  Some of my thoughts are below.  What are yours?

  • The degree that a particular physiological factors exists in an individual—e.g., the level of a particular hormone in an individual,
  • Factors in “nurture”—e.g., whether a tendency is reinforced, moderated or reversed, and
  • Human maturity, especially emotional intelligence and the related ability to choose our reactions and the behavior that works best in a situation.