There are two “languages” in the workplace — masculine and feminine. We use the term “Frax-wise” to describe people who understand, appreciate and leverage both masculine and feminine ways. (We are all “Frax,” a combination of Fran, the feminine prototype, and “Max,” the masculine.) If I am personally Frax-wise, I know which “language” is most effective in which circumstances. In working with others, as a Frax-wise person, I do not take speech styles literally; I know Fran may simply not be expressing his or her ideas powerfully and Max (though sounding confident) may be expressing an opinion. As a Frax-wise leader, I understand that these differences may create obstacles for those who speak “Fran” and I can lower those obstacles. I can be an inclusive leader and get the upsides of gender diversity.
I respond to a football analogy about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. My brother suggested most women don’t want to be at the top in the business world. Like a “tight end” on a football field, they should be happy with their role and not worry that they are not the quarterback. The point of Sandberg’s book is that IF a woman wants to reach the top, she should lean in. My point is that the playing field is not level. Lots of women who are qualified to be quarterback are held back and hold themselves back.
While diversity is “the right thing to do,” it will get more support if it is also good for business. A business approach to diversity includes: (1) it is based on facts; (2) there is a strong business case; (3) it is expressed in non-judgmental terms. For example, an initiative to improve gender diversity will be based on where women are represented, turnover rates and levels of measurable engagement. The business case for gender diversity must be spelled out. And root causes for not having gender diversity must be expressed so men aren’t put on the defensive.
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.
I usually focus on what leaders can do to create inclusive cultures and achieve gender diversity in leadership. Women themselves can do things to improve their odds of reaching the top. To be seen as leaders, be heard and get credit for accomplishments they must do some “masculine” things–speak up, act confident, take risks, ask for what they want, toot their horns. But if they act “too” masculine, they will be caught in the double bind. Avoiding the double bind while demonstrating leadership can be like walking a tightrope and chewing gum!