The bully, the bimbo and your bottom line

The business case for an inclusive culture

Lately, we hear a lot of talk about gender diversity. You may have heard that it’s really good for business. Companies with women (working with men) in senior management and on boards of directors make more money. It makes no sense, then, that women are still so outnumbered in the C-suite and on boards. Companies are missing out on the business value of gender diversity in leadership.

No one will say having gender diversity causes a better bottom (line).  But study after study shows a strong correlation. Why? Do women bring something magical? Women (in my opinion) rock. But that’s not why gender diversity is good business. The reason gender diversity affects business results, I suggest, has a lot to do with yin and yang — the Taoist symbol of wholeness and balance.  Yin = feminine; yang = masculine. If you have a balance of the two genders in leadership (or in any group), you are more likely to have a balance of masculine and feminine energies and strengths.  That balance is what drives better decisions and better results.

So how do you get a better bottom line? Your goal can be gender diversity. Or your goal can be a culture that leverages both feminine and masculine strengths – in both women and men. Either way, you should expect greater retention, productivity and profits. To achieve either of these goals (gender diversity or the yin/yang balance), you need to do the same thing: You need to understand and value both masculine and feminine strengths and create a culture where both are valued and leveraged.

We need to start with understanding. Here’s how I think about masculine and feminine differences – and strengths. Imagine a long continuum. On the far left is the extreme version of masculine – a bully. On the far right is the extreme version of feminine – a bimbo. Neither bullies nor bimbos help your bottom line. (Extremes never bring good things to the table.) What you want is the strengths along that continuum between bullies and bimbos.

To understand what we mean by “masculine” strengths and “feminine” strengths, we don’t look at the extremes. To establish a common definition of “masculine” styles and strengths, we look at how the typical or average man thinks, behaves, works and leads. And to get our arms around what we mean by “feminine” approaches, we study how the prototypical women is most likely to think, behave, work, and lead.

Let’s call our prototype for masculine style “Max” – who could be Maxwell or Maxine. Our prototype for feminine is “Fran” – Francis or Frances (male or female). Max has lots of important leadership strengths – directness, decisiveness, linear and focused thinking and competitiveness.  Fran brings other strengths to the table – being relational, collaborative, more process-oriented in decision-making, and persuasive.

Historically, let’s say in the last century, definitions of leadership have been gendered – and masculine.  Leaders had to be like Max, direct, decisiveness and focused. More recently, leadership experts like John Gerzema have come around to seeing that this is one-sided and that leaders must have these strengths and some of Fran’s strengths; they must also value process and be relational, inclusive, and persuasive.

And leaders must bring both sets of strengths out on their teams. In making a decision about a complex issue, a team dominated by Max-like thinkers will be focused and efficient in following a goal handed down from above in the organizational hierarchy. And they make drive efficiently to a bad or short-sighted outcome. A team of only Fran-like thinkers will gather and process lots of points of view and can become paralyzed in seeking consensus. On a team with a balance – a mix of Max-like and Fran-like thinkers – there will be a balance of goal and process orientation. The result is likely to be a better and more sustainable outcome.

If leaders value only (or mostly) those on their teams who are like Max, those more like Fran will feel less included – and be less engaged. If leaders understand and can identify and value both sets of strengths, they will increase engagement among those like Fran. Those with Fran strengths will contribute – and stay. Engagement is clearly linked with productivity, retention, quality, and a better bottom line. Broadening engagement to include those all along the masculine-feminine continuum is the secret sauce. That’s what underlies those studies linking gender diversity and financial results.

So, do you want a better bottom line? Better decisions and broader engagement will help. And you’re more likely to get better decisions and broader engagement by valuing and leveraging the strengths between bullies and bimbos. 

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