Why Women Do Not Need to Behave Like Men to Be Good Leaders

The messages to women about how to advance in organizations still, regrettably, urge women to behave like men, but men don’t seem to get messages that say they need to change at all. Reward systems in organizations still undervalue feminine workplace values and leadership behaviors and predominantly reward masculine ones. For example:

  • Assertiveness is rewarded more often than collaboration.
  • Women are urged to work long hours and pretend they don’t have children. (I’m not joking.) Women in a financial services firm whom I just interviewed are told not to talk about their families-even with each other-if they want to be considered for advancement.
  • Women must show they are task focused by not “wasting time” on building teams and relationships by soliciting or listening to input or problems.

Ruth Whippman, writing for the New York Times, notes that “ anything (in most organizational cultures) associated with girls or women . . . is by definition assigned a lower cultural value than things associated with boys or men.” She goes on to say that “the assumption that assertiveness is a more valuable trait than, say, deference is itself the product of a ubiquitous and corrosive gender hierarchy.”

I agree with Whippman that achieving equality in organizations means, in addition to parity in representation, that organizations must come to value both feminine and masculine workplace values. These differences are described by Dr. Joyce K. Fletcher in her book, Disappearing Acts, in the table below:

Fletcher emphasizes that organizations and society need both masculine and feminine values to have healthy and productive environments and relationships. When they are not both valued and our society and workplaces are out of balance, with a higher value placed on the masculine, as they are now, many problems occur for both women and men that could be prevented. For example:

  • Whippman notes that the emphasis on masculine assertiveness has led us to many of our current social problems, such as #MeToo, campus rape, school shootings, and President Trump’s Twitter rages.
  • The problem is not that women are not speaking up but that men are refusing to stop to listen to others and reflect on the impact of their behavior.
  • The problem is not that women apologize too much, as suggested in magazines and books, but that men don’t apologize enough. Whippman quotes a study that suggests women apologize more because they have a “lower threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior.” She is quick to point out that many of our problems with male entitlement and toxic behavior can be traced back to a “fundamental unwillingness among men to apologize.”
  • Rather than pouring money into encouraging only girls to take up STEM subjects, why aren’t we also pouring money into encouraging boys to become nurses? Are we saying that boys have no capacity for empathy, or that nursing isn’t considered masculine enough to count as real work?

Imagine having organizations where both masculine and feminine workplace values were rewarded and valued for leadership-where leaders could be valued for being both task and relationship focused, both competitive and collaborative, both directive and supportive-where leaders could be role models for how to have both careers and families rather than hiding the fact that they have families. This dream scenario is possible, and having a balance of both feminine and masculine values and behaviors will create more productive, equitable, and inclusive workplaces. We need men to “lean out,” though, rather than blaming the victim and putting all the pressure on women to become more like men. Women and men have to work together to make these changes in organizational cultures. Women can’t change things alone, but the results will be organizational cultures that are better for everyone.

Anne Litwin, Ph.D. is an Organizational Development and Human Resources Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together.’

Originally published at https://www.annelitwin.com on November 11, 2019.

Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together', OD Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Workshop Trainer

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store