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.
Masculine and feminine expectations about workplace relationships are different. Differences in brain structure, hormones and cultural influences explain these differences. The masculine approach is less intimate and personal than the feminine. There are advantages and limitations of both approaches. The masculine approach s allows one to work with someone you don’t like. It separates business and personal issues. Conflict is less personal. The feminine approach is warmer and contributes to trust and workplace community (important to younger generations). The masculine approach can seem cool and disregard personal aspects of business issues. The feminine approach can inappropriately mix personal and business issues and make workplace conflict more personal.
There are both strengths and limitations to the masculine and feminine forms of making decisions. The prototypical male focuses on the goal and gets straight to the point. That’s great for efficiency, but important issues may be missed. The prototypical female values more process and gathers multiple inputs. That’s great for creativity and buy-in, but it can get bogged down. Either approach alone may get sub-optimal results. The best decisions come from a group that balances masculine and feminine approaches.
The masculine and feminine way of structuring things (organizations, teams, space) are different.The masculine version of structure is hierarchy. Sometimes a hierarchical structure works best–for example when there is an emergency or time-bound situation of where consistency is important. The limitations are that people may feel less included and be less creative. The feminine structure is a flat “network.” This structure works best when getting lots of ideas, encouraging creativity and getting buy-in are important. Its limitations are that it takes longer.
Effective leaders flex their approach to the point on the masculine-feminine continuum that is most effective in the circumstance and they appreciate others who also operate along a wide expanse of the continuum.