Close Encounters of the Female Kind
Boy meets girl. Girl gets education. Girl gets job. Girl goes to work … for boy. And then LOTS of other girls join in, and move swiftly up the ladder.
How would you write this ending? Do the boys start getting nervous? Does the girl in the workplace create a dilemma?
Women are evenly represented at the lower levels but woefully lacking at management and board levels. Three percent of CEO’s in the Fortune 500 are women. Can men and women actually co-vocate with more than just a smattering of the female gender represented?
Well we do work well together. It happens all the time. Research indicates that men actually support women in the workplace. Better yet, men support women in higher ranking positions of leadership. Those workplaces, however, are still male-dominated, from leadership levels on up and industry culture reflects it. Strengths that men bring to the table become the norm for how everyone does work.
We know from studies that a work environment carries with it the flavor of the majority, in most cases the male gender. Having come from an engineering career, I know what it is like to work in an 85% male environment. Mostly I liked it, but I also realize in retrospect that rather than being myself, I was assimilated to mold into the surroundings. In fact, I suppressed many of my natural intuitions because it was not “the way we do things around here.” That is not good. After all, shouldn’t we create a milieu where individual strengths are leveraged, not buried? I want to wear a frilly blouse, and do some problem-solving over coffee instead of the board room table, and who says my briefcase can’t be replaced with a pretty Vera Bradley satchel with paisley piping?
Noted Harvard scholar Rosabeth Moss-Kantor stated that a setting did not begin to recognize a minority population until that population reached approximately 30%. At that point it became something more than an anomaly. Different approaches become accepted rather than frowned upon. For women, this threshold is important because it represents an opportunity for our female strengths to be accepted and put to use.
But what is important here is the value of a balanced workplace where both genders are represented. Among female leadership traits are sensing & empathizing, big picture thinking, relationship building, multi-tasking and planning. Now translate those into the 21st century business world where partnerships are grown from personal relationships, innovation at all levels must be fostered, and the workplace is about people, despite it feeling like it is about technology. Leveraging productivity out of others is achieved through inspiration. Successful leaders know they would rather have commitment than compliance from their followers. This is a natural for women.
Good thing is the symbiosis between men and women and the vast potential for complementary skills. Consider it a joint venture.