There’s an unspoken truth that is holding women back across all organizational levels and it’s not the work/family narrative. We know that company structures have mostly been built by men for men and are, as such based on masculine values. Yet somehow we haven't seen this as a problem for women's advancement.
To be clear about the terminology here ‘Masculine’ is not the same as ‘masculinity’ or ‘men’, both men and women have masculine traits and everyone expresses masculine values naturally to a varying degree (whether they are aware of it or not). It’s a sliding scale from all masculine to a sprinkle of masculine values.
There’s nothing wrong about masculine traits like there’s nothing wrong about feminine traits. Neither is better or worse, they are simply different.
Why is a masculine values-based system problematic?
A masculine value system includes traits such as independence, competitiveness, power, assertiveness and force. Masculine structures are linear, hierarchical, logical, fact-based and appreciate material wealth. Masculine is the ‘doer’ energy, it conquers and gets things done. Both men and women carry and express these traits.
Feminine values include traits such as intuition, co-creation, humility, tolerance and empathy. Feminine structures are open, circular, collaborative and based on relationships. The feminine appreciates beauty and harmony. Feminine energy is about ‘being’, it’s nurturing and protects life. Both men and women are able to express these traits if allowed.
Around the world, CEOs are struggling to increase the number of women in leadership roles and other key positions across industries. Most are struggling to get results. At the same time, we know that organisations are built on a predominantly masculine value system.
Why does lack of results come as a surprise!
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review shines light to the unspoken truth and complete denial that the masculine value system could be to blame. Robin J. Ely and Irene Padvic were called to help a global consulting firm who had no success promoting women through their ranks, despite having made many accommodations for women to have more flexible careers. What they learned was, in fact, that work arrangements such as part-time and internal-facing roles were one of the key reasons women were sidelined from exciting career paths. Easy explanation: women have more difficulty combining family and work.
What the researchers discovered was that the real culprit was the culture of overwork that was hurting both women and men. Men were expected to adopt full ‘work identities’ and women simply weren’t able to commit to long working hours and adopt 'family identities' that were expected of them. Men outsourced their sadness and hurt of not seeing their children to women, and women accepted the "I simply can’t leave my children" narrative.
When Ely and Padvic presented their findings and recommended to change the culture of overwork, the firm dismissed it and sent them home. Blaming the work/family dilemma for hindering women’s advancement was more convenient than accepting that the system itself was hurting everyone.
Overwork is just one example of a toxic workplace culture where the whole value system is based purely on masculine traits. Overwork is celebrated as a sign of strength and stamina, it’s like going to war. He who can last longest wins and those who can't do 70 hour work weeks are clearly weak losers! An exaggerated demonstration of masculine force.
Overwork has nothing to do with true value creation or producing quality work. Research shows that long working hours backfire for people and companies.
Another example was how women were guided not to rely on their naturally strong feminine traits such as relationship building skills in their careers because people would think "you don't have a lot going on between your ears". Shaming the feminine skill set is a common strategy that comes from lack of understanding.
As a result, this firm, and many others, will see no change in their efforts to attract female talent until they address their value system thoroughly. Equally, their male leaders will be locked into the same pattern and have little chance of seeing their daughter’s next football game or their son’s drama performance.
In a culture that values only the masculine, not much will change.
You can fill positions with women but until their core values are recognised and appreciated, they will not be able to show up authentically and bring their best self to work. Women will feel frustrated and undervalued in a system that only celebrates masculine traits. You can make small shifts and gradual change by adopting improved working policies like flexible working or breast milk shipping, but unless structures, culture and the underlying value system also changes – not much will be achieved for real gender equality.
Do you believe the feminine way can be a successful strategy?
The corporate world doesn't yet seem ready to welcome a feminine value system as a real success strategy. Companies want women, but not the core talents and traits that women can bring.
The leaders of that global consultancy firm didn’t believe in the feminine as a winning strategy. How could they possibly work differently! Overworking was a real sign of strength and power for them, that’s what successful men do, right?
The feminine principle is gentle and does things with humility. The feminine protects life and believes there’s enough for everyone. The feminine is about trusting a deep knowledge of what is ‘enough’ and so avoiding overwork. (We all have that ability if we listen carefully.) The reason women are held back is not only about the work/family narrative or flexible working hours or breast milk shipping policies.
The unspoken truth is that society does not yet believe the feminine way of doing things can be good - good for business, good for media and good for everyone in society #EachforEqual. This is a deeply rooted system flaw which will only change when both men and women recognise it. When we all understand that gender issues are not about competition (men vs women), but about collaboration - then it becomes easier for everyone to work together to change things. When we stop pointing fingers and learn to appreciate each other's natural talents everybody wins.
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