I recently participated in a program on a topic related to the ones I write about and address in workshops. It was on communication techniques that will help women get to the top. The facilitators assured women that they need not “change” in order to succeed at work. They then proceeded, for the next hour, to tell women how they must communicate to be heard and respected. They must speak up. They need to avoid disclaimers (“This may be stupid, but …”). They must change from masculine (“agentic”) to feminine (“communal”) styles of communication based on the circumstances. They must be sensitive to social cues and be good at self-monitoring.
Was this an inconsistency? Must women change their natural style of communication at work in order to succeed? If “change” means shifting one’s style based on the circumstances, then the answer is “yes.” But so must men. So must everyone.
For the last several decades, women have been coached on how to navigate in the masculine world of work. On my bookshelf I have dozens of books telling women how to succeed by changing their behavior. Examples are: “Hard Ball for Women,” “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office,” Pitch Like a Girl,” and “Lean In.” Their sub-titles make it clear they are written for women and reveal the secrets of the masculine world. For a time, we needed that. But we – men and women – need something more now to achieve real gender diversity.
If women can succeed only by developing their masculine skills, we’ll just bring more of the same to the top. We won’t have diversity. If women have to do all the “changing,” they risk losing themselves, operating without authenticity and exhausting themselves.
What about men? Must they change? What about changes to organizational culture so women can bring their authentic strengths — and so men can develop and express feminine as well as masculine strengths?
These changes are why I focus on the strengths of both masculine and feminine styles of thinking, working, and leading. That’s why my goal is to help both women and men discover, appreciate and apply both sets of skills – and to build cultures where both are honored. And where the balance of both leads to better results.
Situational leadership theory holds that leaders must shift their style to meet the needs of those they are trying to influence – and to accomplish the intended goal. One type of difference in style is the distinction between masculine and feminine approaches. As parents, men and women use both. Sometimes we are firm and give orders (masculine); sometimes we are nurturing and gentle (feminine). In the workplace, John Gerzema says, leaders must be able to demonstrate and use feminine as well as masculine strengths.
If we want to see the proven benefits of gender diversity at the top – and if we want leaders who are whole and flexible – we must all “change.” We must all read the situation and shift our style so we are most effective. We must understand and appreciate both masculine and feminine styles so we increase engagement and team results.
Do you agree that we must all “change” in this way?