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.
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!
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.