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I often speak and write about the power and payoff of gender diversity in leadership. The reason gender diversity is correlated with better results, I believe, is that having a balance of men and women in a group or organization makes it more likely that both masculine and feminine ways of thinking and doing things will be present. I show lots of ways that balance leads to better outcomes. Even as women represent a larger and larger percentage of the workforce, however, most workplace cultures remain more masculine than balanced. I have some theories about why.

I do not equate men with masculine approaches or women with feminine approaches. Both men and women have elements of masculine and feminine, and individuals have both in different degrees. I define masculine using a prototype named Max (could be Maxwell or Maxine), who behaves in a masculine way in every circumstance, and a prototype named Fran (could be Francis or Frances), who behaves in a feminine way every day, all day. In my book and workshops, we follow Max and Fran into the workplace and see how masculine and feminine approaches show up at work—and the strengths of each approach.

Before women entered the business world in significant numbers, workplaces in most sectors were heavily male. Research shows that, when men work and talk with other men, masculine norms are followed. “Leadership” is largely defined by masculine approaches. Most workplace cultures still reflect—and value—masculine more than feminine approaches. When women are part of a workplace, they are likely to introduce some feminine elements, but may not bring about the desired balance of masculine and feminine. Here are some reasons why.

  1. Women who naturally work in a masculine way may self-select and join the already-masculine business or professional world. Their masculine ways of thinking suit this world.
  2. Women observe the norms of the organization and work to “fit in” in order to succeed—the natural process of conforming. (This can be exhausting if not done consciously and can undermine authenticity.)
  3. Women who exhibit feminine strengths are not seen as leaders and are not rewarded or promoted. This drives more conforming and drives down the presence of feminine approaches at work, particularly at leadership levels.
  4. Although women now represent almost half of the workforce, most women operate in the middle and lower levels of organizations. At the top are mostly men—and women who reflect #1 or #2 above. And the top sets the norms and defines the culture.

These factors weigh against having a balance of masculine and feminine ways, at all levels of an organization. Achieving a balance requires that men and women understand, appreciate and model feminine as well as masculine ways. Do you know the difference? Do you know the strengths of both masculine and feminine ways?