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.
I respond to a football analogy about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. My brother suggested most women don’t want to be at the top in the business world. Like a “tight end” on a football field, they should be happy with their role and not worry that they are not the quarterback. The point of Sandberg’s book is that IF a woman wants to reach the top, she should lean in. My point is that the playing field is not level. Lots of women who are qualified to be quarterback are held back and hold themselves back.
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.
Discussions of gender diversity often involve stereotyping. I avoid that. Both men and women have and use both masculine and feminine approaches. I use prototypes to create a common understanding of masculine and feminine. I present workshops with a male colleague; we illustrate the point that we both move along the masculine-feminine continuum. Gender diversity in leadership is good business not because women have magic. It is because there is more likely to be a balance of masculine and feminine approaches. The business gets the advantages of both.
I knew that our “unconscious images” created an obstacle for women. People who do not “look the part” are less likely to come to mind when assignments or promotions are being made. I learned from my former husband that people may actually fear giving an assignment or position to a women because they can’t envision her approach working.