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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Grobman

Can We Create a More Balanced Leadership Approach that Embraces Both Feminine and Masculine Values?

Gender equality at work

When I was working as a strategy manager at a mining company in Brazil, a colleague from the Human Resources department invited me to become an ambassador for the Gender Equity program. In the first on-boarding event I went to, a sociology professor gave an interesting lecture about gender roles in society and how they translated into individual behaviors. She then showed us a table that looked similar the one below:

masculine and feminine values, women's leadership

"Oh no," I thought to myself. "What is wrong with me? I see myself mostly in the right-hand column." This was when I learned that: a) Career women tend to embody more masculine values but b) We all, regardless of sex or orientation, fall somewhere in the range between masculine and feminine in our mix of behavioral patterns, c) Sometimes those who violate norms of traditional gender roles may pay a price because their behavior make people uncomfortable. Having done more research, I now know that we adapt our behavior based on the environment that we are exposed to, especially when we are at a minority position. I could feel how I was becoming more aggressive (masculine) while working on Wall Street (seven years later, I am still trying to recover from using the F-word). Alternatively, during my time working in a more feminine, Brazilian culture, I really had to step up my softer, feminine traits in order to build relationships and engage people. Why This Is Especially Problematic for Women Leaders Much of the current leadership development messaging (and overall "Lean In" discussion) for women focuses on encouraging them to speak more, negotiate more aggressively, self-promote and overall assimilate what we can now identify as masculine traits. In the meantime, managers tend to promote men based on these masculine traits while having mixed reactions towards women exhibit more masculine traits. In an HBR article titled, For Women Leaders, Likability and Success Hardly Go Hand-in-Hand, sociologist Marianne Cooper writes that "data clearly shows that success and likability do not go together for women. This conclusion is all too familiar to the many women on the receiving end of these penalties. The ones who are applauded for delivering results at work are then reprimanded for being “too aggressive,” “out for herself,” “difficult,” and “abrasive.” What is the answer, then? In a world where we constantly see articles discussing toxic work environments and discouraged employees, for organizations to be more successful we need to develop and promote leaders who represent both feminine (nurturing / collaborative) and masculine (results-driven / analytical) qualities. This means that while we develop more masculine traits in women, we also need to make sure that we capitalize on their feminine leadership qualities. We need to do the same with man who are nurturing and sometimes are left behind in ultra-aggressive work cultures. Ironically for me, it was in a mining company that was 87% male, that for the first time in my life I got to work with mostly women as most of my interface was with Corporate Communications, Human Resources and Sustainability areas. It was a big adjustment for my analytical, "numbers-and-facts", brain but most definitely a great professional growth opportunity. Some companies are starting to understand the need to move away from very masculine winner-takes-all approaches to more collaborative, stakeholder / employee-focused cultures. I expect that aside from changing evaluation criteria, incorporating women to a larger extent into leadership positions could really accelerate the change and help break old-time mindsets.

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