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.
Differences can be the source of judgment and tension. Understanding can lower judgment and enable appreciation and leveraging. The sequence is: awareness, understanding, appreciation, leveraging. If we can understand and appreciate masculine-feminine differences, we gain insights and skills that enable us to appreciate and leverage all kinds of differences.
Recent discussions on the “Millennials” (Generation Y) focus on (negative) stereotypes and on similarities. An HBR blog says we exaggerate differences and should focus on similarities. I agree that we exaggerate differences but do not think the solution is in ignoring them. We can be “generation blind” no more than we can be “color blind” in dealing with racial differences. Recognizing differences enables us to see strengths and to leverage differences.
In my quest for gender diversity in leadership, I use the concepts “masculine” and “feminine.” And I use prototypes of each. My point is to avoid stereotyping men and women. I use a common understanding of these concepts to help people see the strengths of both AND to see that both men and women have both. Using different terminology would not make my point as clearly.
To reduce judgment about other generations, it helps to understand them — and why members of that generation are different from members of our own. One important factor in shaping generations is how they were parented during their formative years. GenXers are independent and self-directed and want “life/work balance” because their parents were workaholic Baby Boomers and they grew up in two-career families or families of divorce. Millennials are confident, but more dependent on advice and praise, because their parents protected and praised them.