I am interested in the roots of masculine-feminine differences in nature and nurture. I want experts to tell me if I have this right or wrong. Cultural influences on where a person operates along the masculine-feminine continuum include norms, expectations, and approval/disapproval. One tends to do what he or she is encouraged and rewarded for doing. Repeated behaviors create and deepen neuropaths, creating habits. Cultural influences seem to reinforce physiological differences. Nature and nurture collaborate. The good news is we are not hard wired. We – and our brains – can change. Both men and women can learn and use both masculine and feminine strengths to be more effective.
Men in my workshops used to hesitate to claim feminine strengths, perhaps concerned they would be called a “sissy.” In my book and workshops, I use prototypes for masculine and feminine – Max and Fran. Men in our workshops seem comfortable acknowledging their “Fran” strengths. Maybe it is because more of them understand the value of gender diversity. Some may be convinced, e.g., by the work of McKinsey & Co. and John Gerzema, that leadership must include feminine as well as masculine perspectives. Valuing feminine strengths personally enables authenticity, effectiveness and health. Valuing feminine strengths in others contributes to inclusivity, which drives engagement and results.
I am fortunate to have been able to travel a great deal recently. When I travel, what I read in history books or hear on the news becomes more real. I pay attention to news of places where I have been. I can imagine people in Delhi, Munich, Beijing, Cairo and Istanbul. Awareness and appreciation of difference makes me glad I am in the field of diversity and inclusion.
In my book and blogs, I explore differences in masculine and feminine approaches to work — e.g., the value of relationships, structure, decision-making, work style and communication style. There are strengths and limitations to the feminine approach. One limitation is in selling products, services and one’s self. The feminine approach avoids the hard sell and tooting one’s own horn. I teach this difference. Yet I am personally hampered by the feminine approach to self-promotion. I have hired a coach to help me LEARN to toot my own horn and be more effective at having others see the value of what I offer.
Why do I focus on a specific form of diversity (gender or generational differences at work) rather than more broadly on diversity and inclusion? I take an inductive approach, believing that awareness of the value of one form of difference can be applied to other forms of difference. Why not start with the largest group under-represented at leadership levels (women)? As a white woman, I have more credibility on the issue of women in business than on race or sexual orientation. We have lots of opportunity to practice on gender differences. I want both masculine and feminine strengths applied to solving the big issues facing the world; having a balance of men and women makes that more likely. That’s why.