What can we learn from each other?

In a different thread, Xuan reflects about three interesting questions


  • Is it advisable to separate women/girls and men/boys in different developing programs?
  • Why do women have less confidence and negotiating skills?
  • Is there a “feminine leadership style”?



Separating girls from boys and women from men in education or learning/development programs made sense in the past, when distinct roles were assigned to each gender, where the competencies and skills required for men were different from those that supported women, and where such segregation was generally considered as inevitable.

For hundreds of years, girls and boys have been educated in “gender-appropriate” ways, which meant no less than engraining the beliefs that those roles and behaviors that are appropriate for men are not the same as those appropriate for women. Both boys and girls have been taught how to conform to their parents’ stereotypes.

However, the world-view underlying those stereotypes is quickly becoming obsolete and burdensome in the world we live in. Our world is becoming ever more interconnected and interdependent and expectations of younger generations do no longer match those of their parents. Those values that long seemed to be a prerogative of women are now seen by progressive management teachers and writers as being fundamental components of the skills package that successful leaders must possess.

More generally, values like trust, honesty, respect, moderation, service, are no longer seen as contingent on their (perceived) direct business effect (“I can afford to behave dishonestly so long as the risk of being caught is minimal, or so long as the cost of being caught is smaller than the benefit of dishonest behavior”) but they are increasingly considered by both women and men as fundamental values that are part of human needs, irrespective of any utilitarian consideration. Which makes them only more relevant for long-term business success.

I’m not suggesting that these values are intrinsically less developed in men than they are in women. I do say however that they correspond more to the feminine stereotype than to the masculine stereotype. The utilitarian view is still often part of the “guys’ game”, part of the unwritten rules according to which our organizations have been run during the 20th century. Women are reluctant to adapt to the rules of that game. This makes them at first a disturbing factor, but – that is the hope we must cherish – it also gives women the opportunity to be powerful game changers. 

The paradigm is steadily shifting:

Double-income households are now the norm, men are increasingly sharing in household tasks, technology advances make work from home a more attractive option, women graduates are now a majority in most disciplines – and even more so when we look at the upper 25% grades – and our understanding of what is effective leadership is changing.

Women and men should not be educated separately. We should stop teaching each other and start learning from each other.


Regarding more specifically your questions:


A number of studies come to the conclusion that women have less confidence and/or less ambition than men. My own conversations with women in management make me  doubt these conclusions. What I find is that


  • women achieve better results at university
  • women quit their jobs more often when they do not find satisfaction
  • women quit their jobs more often to start their own businesses
  • women are more likely to ask “difficult” questions in meetings
  • most women have the ambition to “make a difference” in their lives.


This is not a portrait of someone lacking confidence.



  • women tend to hold themselves to higher standards. When a man who feels 50% qualified for a job will step forward and say “I can do this”, a woman who feels she lacks 20% competence will want to think it over – and often forfeit her chance of getting the job.
  • in direct competition with a man a woman is more likely to “give in”
  • women are less likely to risk confrontation, whereas confrontation is part of the “rules of the game” for many men
  • women “don’t ask”: women unanimously tell me that they want their merits to be acknowledged by their employer without having to ask for it. Having to ask for a promotion or for recognition feels like it diminishes the reward.
  • generally speaking, women are not trained in playing the games through which men find out who is the leader of the herd, and it is not what they see as the goal of their lives.


I am very reluctant to call this “lack of confidence” but yes, these factors can be obstacles to promotion in today’s corporate world.


Negotiation skills

I know many women who are fierce negotiators. They will always look for the best deal for their kids, for their family, or for the organization they work for. Their “weapons” will be excellent arguments, high communication skills and effective tactics. They will rarely resort to intimidation, belittling the opponent or playing power games. 

Again: I see no inferiority in negotiation skills, but I see different negotiation styles.

A factor creating hurdles to their promotion is certainly a reluctance that many women have to negotiate for their own advantage. “Selling” themselves is not something most women find attractive or even appropriate. They tend to abhor company “politics”.


Is there a “feminine leadership style”? 

A number of studies come to the conclusion that no significant differences can be found in men’s vs women’s leadership styles, and such studies have been conducted by both women and men.

On the other hand, when you ask individuals, they will say “of course men and women lead differently”. 

When I ask men or women to tell me stories about great bosses they have worked for, I hear about women and men who are fluent in the “hard” business and leadership skills, but who are also good people managers, who have high integrity and who inspire people through their example.

It is not a leadership style reserved to women, it is rather a style that integrates the best of the feminine stereotype and the best of the masculine stereotype. It is a “gender-bilingual” leadership style rather than a “gender-stereotypical” one.

I’m currently having conversations with successful women and I will ask them to describe their very own leadership style. If you feel inspired to make your voice heard, drop me a line and your story will appear in this blog!

Stay tuned!




As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs.



11 thoughts on “What can we learn from each other?

  1. "We should stop teaching each other and start learning from each other" beautifully put, wondering on synchronicity, I touched on this in my blogpost today… I greatly admire the awareness you bring into this matter Serge, have a great day!

  2. Hi Serge, very interesting article and i learned so much from it. I agree with most of your views, espcially regarding the leadership part. The leadership of our time and in the future needs to incorporate the desirable traits of men and women. Your argument about the separation of women and men in education made me think for a while. My feeling told me that in our time education segregation itself is stereotyped. And interestingly both women and men are against this separating system. If we equalize educational segregation to a "gender appropriate" training, then there is no need we argue here. So the question is: how do we define the separation of gender in education and what goal do we want to achieve?I found this article which might answer some of the questions. This is the link http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/3705.html.My standpoint is both women and men shall be aware of who they are and where their strengths, motivation and values locate. I hope we could build up the authentic self concept without too much distraction from social rules. And that might be one contribution of the separated developing programs for men and women. Let me know your opinions.Xuan

  3. Without going into citations I will speak from my gut. With experience in the teaching field, I have come to realize that boys and girls have different learning styles. This is supported by brain-based research. I feel that separating the sexes in an educational environment, therefor, is being done for enhanced learning rather than sexual segregation.

  4. One can think of many arguments in favor of the thesis that women have a better learning experience and better learning results when separated from men, and I tend to believe it is true. However, I do not personally wish to delve too deeply into this question, mainly for lack of competence.So let me just assume women’s colleges are more effective.My question then is: what other effects – positive or negative – might gender segregation have on boys and girls?Have a nice Sunday!

  5. I think gender segregation works better for girls/women in masculine areas, such as science and engineering. This helps women build their self concept and enhance confidence in these areas. Of course there are negative parts. One of the negative effects might be lack of learning opportunities from the other gender. We know that women or men excel in certain qualities, therefore we need to be careful about the segregation at some point.

  6. the main thing we have to have on mind as humans is that,that everyone who is born from mother and made of father(and we are all)is equal with everyone of such kind in the universe:so our relations have to be according to that fact.It means life have to be cooperation,not competition.Man and women are each half of the whole,and everything between is a choice of the mind.love and blessing,vasilka

  7. Notwithstanding the fact that segregation might enhance gender stereotypes, are we sure that it is an advantage for women to be able to develop themselves and build their confidence in a male-free environment? This might help them get better marks in school, but as far as i understand, women already get better marks than men, even in mixed environments. Ok, it might help them develop some technical side and become better experts in specific areas where men generally dominate.but what happens when these women arrive in the workplace? they will arrive in a still male-dominated environment, without ever having been confronted to the "male way of doing business". they will never have learned to "play the game", and will encounter the known obstacles.wouldn’t it be more constructive to promote mixed education, with a sensibilisation to gender biaises, where boys and girls would learn to be "bilingual", understand both male and female sides and their complementarity?

  8. My answer to the question ‘can we learn from each other’ is yes, we can (…I have heard this somewhere else, actually..) If I may add a few words to the topic: we tend to identify education with higher education but we are a minority; for billions of people education is this basic education, read and write, maybe basic English knowledge or again a good technical training that allows people to better their life and feed their children. It is my belief that women in developing countries need a good amount of help to get off poverty and this means a sort of ‘fast track education’ in comparison to their peer-men. Women are the central element in rural society and they care for human life and for the environment. Women are great conservation agents for the environment and educating them also means helping them to educate their family members to conduct a more healthier life (organic farming instead of industrial techniques / non toxic instead of oil-derivatives…). This, in turn, brings stability in the society and a better life for the generations yet to come.What about the minority of the population, what about us? Let us enjoy learning from each other! it is such a great experience for women to be able to learn from men and for men to learn from women! Education apartheid? no, thank you.Thank you for readingIrene

  9. Re: separating women-girls and men-boys in education:I would like to believe that God intended the world to be a mixed one. Yes, sometimes it may be challenging learning to live with or accommodate the opposite sex depending on the situation at hand. Still, I would rather we encourage each other to learn to live, learn and work with each other rather than imply that all is lost (that is what separate developing programs means to me). I wish I could understand the thinking behind this position. From my point of view I realize we are different BUT complementary. Both sexes need each other even in development programs because the diversity of thoughts, approaches, perspectives would all enrich the experience and uplift all stakeholders in the learning process.Re: Why do women have less confidence and negotiating skills?I will talk about the average Ugandan woman because that is the one I know best. First of all, the average Ugandan woman will be semi-literate, living under a man’s roof and typically doing whatever it is that the Man or husband tells or allows her to do. Life for most of these people happens to have been designed that way. It is just the way things are. For such cases you do not have to ask the above question – I mean, it does not make sense to discuss the point. Talking about the career woman in Uganda – like myself:It will be a matter of how far one is from the generation that was led by men. If you grow up seeing most women taking a back role, however much you determine to be different, your subconscious would have been contaminated.These days I have started seeing girls that are so confident and skilled at negotiation. I would say, almost out of character! Relating it to my mother’s generation. It is mainly because of the affirmative action and attention to the girl child over the past 20 or so years. The danger for Ugandan men is that young men have started looking like they are unsure of themselves. I wish there was a way we could have a balance. It is great for girls to have confidence but, it should not be at the expense of the boy child. Talking about negation, will continue …BestNorah

  10. Feminine leadership style? Probably yes. The fact is women and men focus on different aspects of leadership. That could cause them to adopt different leadership styles. However, we are all influenced by the books we read, the mentors and coaches we have, the role models we pick and our own experiences as people being led. In my case, the leadership style I have currently is a blend of all that I have considered good in the people that I admire as leaders. I may adjust these practices to suit my personality but not my sex! If it were the case that we do things naturally, without any contamination what-so-ever, we certainly would have different styles. Come to think of it, most of what is referred to as leadership is expressed in mainly masculine terms! I wonder what other people would say about this. I may have to try to get on the blog. Hope I get time this weekend. Norah

  11. Hi Serge, very interesting article and i learned so much from it. I agree with most of your views, espcially regarding the leadership part. The leadership of our time and in the future needs to incorporate the desirable traits of men and women.Your argument about the separation of women and men in education made me think for a while. My feeling told me that in our time education segregation itself is stereotyped. And interestingly both women and men are against this separating system. If we equalize educational segregation to a "gender appropriate" training, then there is no need we argue here. Kavins

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