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broken ladderAt DifferenceWORKS, we put the obstacles that women face in climbing to the top into three categories: the double bind, the comfort principle and unconscious images. None is malicious, intentional – or even conscious. They arise out of unconscious (or invisible) mind-sets, says McKinsey & Co. They hold women back and keep American businesses from achieving the benefits of gender diversity. What can we do to remove the obstacles that result from these mind-sets? We can bring the mind-sets to conscious awareness. That enables us to change our thinking and our actions.

The starting point is to establish common understanding of “masculine” and “feminine.” At DifferenceWORKS, we do that through Max – a prototype for the mythical “average” or “typical” male. And through Fran, the prototype representing what most (not all) women tend to do. We all, men and women, have both “Max” and “Fran” ways of thinking and behaving. We are all “Frax.” If I am aware of both Max and the Fran in me, I am “Frax-wise,” something others might call “gender intelligent.”

Frax-wise people are effective because they use their Max or their Fran depending on the circumstances. They are inclusive leaders because they appreciate (vs. judge) the Max or Fran in others. Most important, Frax-wise people understand that masculine-feminine differences are at the heart of those generally unconscious mind-sets. They are conscious of the mind-sets and the barriers they create for women:

  • They are aware of the double bind: the dilemma facing women that they may be liked but not respected as leaders if they operate in feminine ways, but may be respected but disliked if they operate in masculine ways. Because they value the Fran and Max in both men and women, they do not trap women in this lose-lose proposition.
  •  Max-wise leaders understand that male leaders tend to have more in common with other men and, therefore, feel more comfortable with them. Conscious of the “comfort principle,” they take steps to assure that it does not determine who gets good assignments or mentoring.
  •  Frax-wise leaders are aware of the common mental images of leadership and success. They look at skills and results, not style. They see leadership potential in people who are like Fran (e.g., lead collaboratively) as well as in people who lead in a Max-like way (e.g., “lead from the front”).

Do you know leaders who understand and appreciate both Max and Fran?