Differences between men and women are naturally designed to complement one another. As a result of differences in hormones and brain structures, women generally gather more information and consider more variations, while men focus and quickly move forward in a linear fashion. Also, “woman’s intuition” leads to picking up small hints more quickly, which, along with richer emotional memories, may also cause greater sensitivity and anxiety in calculating more risk than the average man. Where men compete, women collaborate. Where men demonstrate authority, women demonstrate relationship. Where men are objective or assign blame, women take it personally. Working together, men and women can create more efficient and effective solutions more appropriate for the given problem. Interestingly, research suggests 20% of one sex is hardwired more similarly to the opposite sex.
Balanced, gender-blended teams benefit organizations in many ways beyond expanding the talent pool:
- Richer collection of perspectives leads to innovation, better decisions, and better results.
- The more a company represents its customers’ demographics, the better it can respond to their needs.
- With men and women on opposing ends of continuums, men and women together get the best of both worlds and bring the best leadership traits.
Many studies back this up. For instance, a 19-year study of 215 Fortune 500 companies showed a balance of men and women in leadership correlated with a 34% higher profit margin, 18% higher asset value, and 69% greater stockholder equity. When there are 3+ women on a team, especially, they balance and broaden the conversation rather than simply representing “the woman’s point of view.” In fact, the contribution of women directly correlates with a group’s cooperation, which then accounts for 40% of that group’s collective intelligence – much more so than individual IQ scores.
Men and women alike often cite work-life balance as the primary reason women are underrepresented in senior leadership. This shows up in employee surveys, performance reviews, and exit interviews – either because they fit the male paradigm or are afraid to question it. The real reason, Barbara Annis and Keith Merron posit, is most organizational cultures do not appreciate women’s contributions and self-expression because they are different than the way men tend to think and behave. It’s a culture problem.
Based on surveys of 240,000 leaders, there are many assumptions preventing the blending of male and female input in the workplace:
- We misunderstand each other when we assume equality means sameness.
- We blame the victim when we assume women need to fit the man-created work model of speed, efficiency, and clear hierarchy.
- When we assume men are intentionally excluding women, we miss the opportunity to learn about how we’re perceived by one another.
In overcoming these assumptions, we come to realize:
- Culture change is a reflection of the priorities of senior leadership (as much as 50% variation in culture has been shown to be attributed to variation in leadership). Leaders benefit from recognizing their own assumptions and inviting feedback.
- Setting numeric goals reduces the objective to compliance, which produces overly politically correct men and no real cultural change. Simply targeting a greater number of women is throwing money at a symptom, not addressing the cultural barriers at the root of the issue. Instead, the aim should be balanced contribution of ideas in communication, decision-making, and problem-solving. Leaders might even go outside the team to bring in that alternative input.
- Measuring the same competencies in all employees doesn’t work when only the male type of expression is acknowledged.
- Men need to be included in the conversation to create partnerships rather than try to change women alone.
So how do we achieve this? With systemic cultural transformation as the goal, to eradicate bias and create an environment of inclusiveness for all areas of diversity, the book outlines many initiative options and explains their reasons for success:
- The CEO and executive team genuinely and visibly commit to gender intelligence by making it a strategic priority.
- Diversity councils bring representatives from across the organization to create action plans for integrating diverse talent in all areas.
- Women’s networks focus on action.
- Men and women are appointed to task forces that are high profile development assignments.
- Tracking representation, retention, and leadership behaviours maintains accountability.
- Rather than seeking and reinforcing only leaders who think and act in the male way they do, senior men sponsor high-potential women, too.
- Talent management and succession planning includes competencies that reflect the strength of differences.
- Management is trained and empowered to walk the talk, listening generously to diverse perspectives, ensuring employees feel welcome to be authentic.
- Culture change transforms everything the company does (policies, procedures, marketplace practices) to reflect inclusiveness.
- Recruitment expands criteria beyond the traditional image of a candidate to consider what really makes an incumbent successful, i.e. may not require a degree in the field.
- Equal pay for equal work adjusts for men’s tendency to negotiate more on total compensation.
- Performance management expands beyond recognition of “on time, on budget” short term business goals to include building and maintaining alliances long term and skills that are replicable.
Most importantly, the change begins with oneself – with questioning your own assumptions and accepting your contribution to the problem. Leaders are going to be uncomfortable acknowledging gaps, but it usually starts with their understanding, flowing to their direct reports and beyond. In fact, recognizing their leadership style shapes the organizational culture may be a learning that contributes to the change.
The next step is an organizational diagnosis with the following type of data dating back 3-5 years:
- Representation of women across job levels and business units – i.e. is there a difference between profit-and-loss or line-responsible positions and support-related functions (HR, diversity, communications, public relations)?
- Leadership surveys such as 360 surveys
- Turnover by level by demographic
- Exit interviews by level by demographic
- Gender diversity as well as talent management strategies, processes, and initiatives
- Overt expressions of company values and leadership competencies
- Recruitment strategies
- Interview methodologies
- Any discrimination or sexual harassment history
- Awards received or applied for that relate to leadership or company culture
- Employee surveys – cutting data by gender, job levels, and region, focusing on specific questions that reveal potential patterns in the culture
Another source of data is one-on-one executive interviews and senior-level male and female focus groups with direct, gender-specific questions, such as:
- To what extent do you feel the culture is inclusive? Does that inclusiveness change the higher up you go in the organization?
- To what extent do you believe women and men face different challenges for promotion?
- To what extent are different views and ideas welcome here?
- What three things are you most appreciative of in this organization related to inclusiveness for both genders?
The authors also use their own survey to diagnose the following categories:
- Opportunity for Advancement
In part because men engage in male leadership behaviours like self-promotion and proactively requesting assignments, there is a disparity between men’s and women’s responses to questions including: I get the challenging assignments that will provide me opportunity for advancement. I get ample opportunity to grow and develop skills necessary for my career at this company. With focus, talent, drive, and determination, anyone can get to become a leader at this company.
- Work-Life Flexibility
My work schedule gives me sufficient flexibility to meet my personal and family needs. I am aware of the work-life flexibility tools available to me. I feel free to use work-life flexibility programs without consequences to my career.
- Dignity and Respect
Here is where leadership must follow through on their commitment to holding managers accountable so employees agree: People are treated with respect, regardless of race, gender, religion, or lifestyle preference. I feel genuinely heard and understood by members of the opposite gender. I feel like I’m treated as a real asset to this company. Direct, confirming feedback is generally more important to women feeling they’re valued and respected – because they engage in more self-reflection and collaboration, and also because they are part of a minority.
- Diversity and Inclusiveness Are Valued
Men speak to the intent and potential while women often speak to their lived reality as it relates to these dimensions: The executives in this company clearly demonstrate that they value diversity. The leadership within this company recognizes and respects the value of differences – they welcome diversity in all its forms: visible, lifestyle, viewpoints, etc. In this company, leaders actively promote gender diversity. In this company, leaders actively promote racial/ethnic/cultural diversity. One factor to recognize is most men naturally feel more comfortable around other men as women generally feel the same toward fellow women – the problem arises when one gender is in the minority and feels excluded.
- Ethnic Diversity Is Valued
- Gender Diversity Is Valued
I have the freedom to safely express my views and opinions. My opinions and ideas are readily sought. I feel amply included in the process of solving problems and making decisions. Women can sometimes worsen the situation by perpetuating a militaristic, command-and-control mentality they had to adopt to get ahead themselves in male-dominant organizations.
- Personal Accountability
One step beyond openness, men need to overcome the unspoken (sometimes unconscious) rule in male culture where you don’t call out other guys for inappropriate behaviour. Taking accountability means: I often witness behaviour conducive to a respectful and inclusive work environment. People readily intervene when they see noninclusive or disrespectful behaviour. I feel encouraged to raise concerns about inclusiveness.
- My Manager
It’s often difficult for subordinates to address management issues in the following types of needs because it could affect their career development: When making key decisions, my manager gets plenty of input from others, regardless of gender. My manager provides me with direct and helpful feedback. My manager provides me with the coaching and guidance I need to improve my performance.
- Satisfaction and Commitment
Among questions like, “If I had a son with the right skills and experience, I would encourage him to work at this company,” men often agree much more with, “Women feel a high sense of satisfaction in working here” than women themselves. Perhaps women aren’t expressing dissatisfaction, or are doing it too subtly for men to notice. Or, perhaps men don’t want to hear it or believe it, discounting it as “complaining.” Less satisfaction means less commitment. Even if they don’t physically leave, women might “quit and stay” with lost ambition.
- Training and Guidance
Once current state and desired state are clear, the process moves on to a transformational plan with multiple levers. For example, make a compelling business case beyond “the right thing to do” and link gender-intelligent goals to the company’s strategy. You might provide leadership coaching and annual leadership reviews with gender-intelligent criteria. To embed gender intelligence in promotions, you could ensure each succession level has a gender-balanced high-potential pool. Another/ additional option is examining decision-making and problem-solving strategies to consider more inclusive alternatives. Outwardly, too, diversity should be part of the employer brand as well as the way the organization relates to customers. Prioritize these initiatives, ensure consistent yet dynamic effort, and keep the organization apprised.