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In exploring differences in masculine and feminine approaches to work (using our prototypes Max and Fran), there is one foundational difference in how they view themselves in the world. This foundation gives rise to three key drivers, which, in turn, influence how Max and Fran work in the 10 areas on the masculine-feminine continuum. One of the key drivers is What Relationships Mean, which contributes to differences in the areas of:

  •  Structure (her value of relationships makes Fran prefer flatter structures rather than a hierarchy);
  • Influence (Fran persuades, minimizing differences in status to demonstrate her value of relationships); and
  • Talk (Fran uses structures of speech to preserve relationships, which matters more than demonstrating her status).

The relationship driver is directly related to the ways Max and Fran literally view relationships at work.

Max views himself as an individual in a hierarchy where status is very important; Fran views herself as part of a network where connections matter more than status. On the masculine side of the continuum, relationships are about one’s own role and position and others’ roles and positions. On the feminine side, relationships are about personal connections. Dr. Pat Heim calls the difference “friendliness” (on Max’s side) vs. “friendship” (on Fran’s side).

Max’s male brain is structured to compartmentalize—to keep work separate from personal life. He is focused on the goal and on winning. Fran’s female brain makes it easier for her to talk about her feelings. Her relationships with other women are based on intimate conversation and a sense of being equals. When a former female peer is promoted above her, it can upset that equality.

Most workplaces are hierarchical in structure (though that is changing in many organizations). In a hierarchy, sharing intimate information with someone “below” you can be risky. It can lead to perceptions that you are not objective in making a personnel decision. Or it can get you in trouble if the person with whom you’ve shared sensitive information does not keep it in confidence. So Fran may learn to keep “executive distance” (a form of “friendliness”) and reserve her more intimate friendships for outside work.

Below is a summary of the two sides of the continuum in the area of workplace relationships:



Expects “friendliness” (more situational) Expects “friendship” (more personal and long-term)
Focuses on other’s roles, skills Focuses on what she likes and dislikes about the other person
Keeps his roles (e.g., job and home) separate Blends her various roles (e.g., job and home)
Respect is based on competence, position Respect is based on the whole person
Other’s role is more important than whether he/she is likeable Liking the other person matters more than his/her role
Dispute isn’t personal Dispute is personal

Have you seen these differences?  Share your stories or examples in a comment!