Studies by Catalyst and McKinsey have shown convincing correlations between gender diversity in leadership and bottom line results. Catalyst has shown higher returns among companies with more women at senior levels and on boards of directors. McKinsey has found that European companies with a higher proportion of women in top management outperformed their competitors on both qualitative and financial measures. These experts do not profess that there is a causal link between having more women and the bottom line. But, as the McKinsey report notes, the facts “can only argue in [favor] of greater gender diversity.”
Why do companies with greater gender diversity do better? Could it be that leaders of those companies appreciate and leverage both “masculine” and “feminine” approaches to work? Could outcomes be better because they are products of balancing the two? Could this result in greater engagement and retention of women?
Both masculine and feminine approaches have strengths and limitations. When an organization is dominated by either masculine or feminine approaches, there is a risk that the downsides of that approach will emerge. With a balance of masculine and feminine approaches, the organization gets more of the strengths and less of the downsides of each. And a balance is more likely to occur when both men and women are at the top.
Having women proportionally represented at upper levels of an organization is an indicator that the culture is inclusive. Inclusive cultures get better results, and the better results are related to the level of “engagement” in the organization.
Employees are more engaged if they feel included, valued and supported. Higher engagement has been clearly linked with higher retention, productivity and profits. So a culture that values and leverages feminine as well as masculine approaches will have higher engagement and retention of women—resulting in and sustaining gender diversity at upper levels.
So what are the masculine vs. feminine approaches that leaders need to appreciate and leverage? To avoid stereotyping and establish a common definition of “masculine” and “feminine,” I’ve created two prototypes: Max and Fran. Max (unlike real men) thinks and behaves in masculine ways all the time and in all circumstances. Fran (unlike actual women) exhibits the feminine way of thinking and acting 24/7. When I describe how Fran approaches something, I am not saying all women do that—but that the average woman is more likely to do that than the average man. Max represents how the typical man is more likely to think and act. But women may operate more like Max and men more like Fran—at least at times.
Here are examples of differences between Max’s (the masculine) and Fran’s (the feminine) approaches to work:
The following example, based on the first two categories, illustrates how a balance of masculine and feminine strengths leads to better results.
If a project is being managed by people who all think like Max, they may follow the lead of the person with the most power. They will focus on the task or goal, avoiding being distracted by what they see as collateral issues. And they may overlook critical information or issues—or pursue the leader’s idea when another might be better.
If the same project is handled only by people like Fran, they may gather and synthesize lots of input and ideas, involve lots of people, and build consensus and buy-in. And they may get paralyzed by process and take much longer to reach the goal.
If the team has a balance of Maxes and Frans (as is more likely if both men and women are on the team), the Maxes will keep the group moving toward the goal, and the Frans will bring in issues and perspectives that will make the outcome both better and more sustainable.
About the Author
Caroline Turner, author of Difference Works: Improving Retention, Productivity and Profitability through Inclusion, began her career as a successful lawyer in a private practice, becoming partner in a large regional firm in the demanding area of securities law and mergers and acquisitions. Later, she climbed the corporate ladder at Coors Brewing Company and its parent company (now MillerCoors and MolsonCoors) to become the company’s first female Senior Vice President. Turner is now a business consultant, advising clients on creating cultures of inclusion, facilitating workshops and delivering speeches.