There is little question about whether there are differences in how the average little boy and average little girl play. Some think that’s about nurture; some think it’s about nature. I think it’s about both. Parents today try to play down the gendered nature of toys and games. Boys play with dolls and girls play soccer (etc.). But differences remain.
Why does the typical man handle conflict more directly than the typical woman? I believe there are deep roots to the differences in masculine and feminine style of conflict – in nature and nurture. Differences may be rooted in hormonal differences and how children play. In other words, changing how we individually tend to handle conflict takes conscious effort.
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.
In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg points to internal barriers that hold women back. Many are just “feminine” ways. Women are wired and acculturated to value relationships more than status and to avoid bragging. This looks like lower ambition. Women tend to speak more humbly; this looks like lower confidence. I agree that, to make it to the top, women must demonstrate ambition and confidence. But my hope is that one day leaders will understand and appreciate feminine as well as masculine style and see leadership in both.
There are three unconscious “mind-sets” that give rise to obstacles for women in business. They are the double bind, the comfort principle and unconscious images of leadership. We all have both masculine and feminine ways; we call that being “Frax”–a blend of the prototype of the masculine (Max) and the prototype of the feminine (Fran). Being “Frax-wise” is being “gender intelligent.” Frax-wise leaders are conscious of the mind-sets that create barriers and so work to lower them.