At Halloween we enjoy putting on costumes and masks. At work, we sometimes assume roles. Doing so can have two opposite effects. It can undermine engagement — or promote effectiveness. The natural tendency to adapt in order to “fit in” can undermine engagement if we do it unconsciously and lose authenticity. But we can consciously shift our approach (e.g., from feminine to masculine) in order to be more effective Shifting in the latter way is no more inauthentic than speaking a foreign language in order to be understood,.
More and more studies link gender diversity and higher returns. Some suggest this is because of unique ways women lead. I disagree. All women do not lead alike. Both men and women lead in masculine ways; both have “feminine” elements to their leadership. The best leaders value and leverage both masculine and feminine strengths. When they do, more people feel valued — and engaged. Having more women at the top makes it more likely a group will have a balance of masculine and feminine strengths; more likely more people are engaged; more likely decisions will be better.
Common sense — and studies — confirm that engaged people do better work and are more likely to stay. Engagement is linked with retention, productivity and profitability. Feeling different — like an “outsider” — can undermine engagement.Spending energy figuring out the rules and fitting in takes energy away from quality and efficiency. In today’s diverse workforce, leaders cannot engage everyone the same. Leaders must understand and appreciate difference to have broad engagement.
Being different (in gender) from my peers, I got a taste of how this affects one’s energy. When I got involved in diversity initiatives, I understood how much energy people put into “fitting in.” This is energy that could be redirected to the quantity and quality of work. An inclusive culture gets better results because more people feel valued!
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.