In today’s world female leadership traits are highly valued. Organisations are becoming aware of the benefits of gender balance, and 50% of the workforce is female.
However, 30-60% of women leave organisations between the age of thirty to forty. Many others plateau in their career. Vital talent is lost. Current initiatives to address this have limited impact. The reason is that they are aimed at ‘fixing the women’; women are asked to adapt to organisations designed for men.
Yet, it is well-known that men and women are different. They have a different working style and they take decisions, think, observe and handle relationships in their own way. Expecting women to be successful in organisations designed for men is akin to asking a fish to climb a tree.
In the past, women have been successful by emulating men. That is not a viable long-term strategy. It only works for a limited group of women, and eliminates the very traits that are highly needed. On top of that it takes time and energy, male behaviour is often judged negatively in women and eventually it does not feel authentic. Indeed, women report that they leave organisations because they feel excluded, undervalued, see little opportunity for advancement, feel a clash between work family commitments and are not attracted by the male-dominated environment they see at the top.
Organisations need to change to enable top performance of both men and women. Team leaders need to learn to flex their style. It’s vital that ways of working of both women and men are recognised and valued. Women have a unique contribution to make, but men too.
Women, organisations and team leaders need to become Gender Smart and create an ocean, to allow those fish to swim freely, thrive and drive top performance.
This book is a guide for women on how to be Gender Smart. In passing it addresses what team leaders and organisations can do to be more Gender Smart as well.
Key Gender Differences
Recent research in neuroscience and bio-psychology gives clear indications how male and female behaviour may differ.
Women tend to have a consultative style of working, it’s about cooperation and partnerships. They usually are people and process-oriented and tend to see the bigger picture. Relationships are key and some emotions are more easily accepted. As a result expertise is widely used, plans are resilient and feasible, people feel engaged and buy-in is created. Team morale is high and absenteeism low.
Men are more inclined to have a command and control style of working, it’s about winning and one-upmanship. They usually are data and results-oriented and tend to prefer a focussed approach. Challenge, criticism and anger is more easily accepted. Consequently hierarchies are quickly formed and accepted, decisions tend to be clear and fast and are based on objective data, priorities are set, and objectives met.
Many of these differences don’t sound that new and exciting. When summarised like this they may even sound rather stereotypical. However, the value of the book is in the detail and that’s what brings a unique perspective and where it helps organisations to be successful in the 21st century.
The way the wealth from research and insights is put together is unique and how it is linked to practical tips and conclusions makes it readable and directly applicable. The book shows how women can make the most of gender differences, how team leaders can be more effective when they flex their style, and what works best in mixed gender teams. The key conclusions are summarised below.
The scientific background the book gives, creates more awareness of the motivation behind certain behaviours and creates understanding and potential for new approaches and real and lasting change.
Once we understand the differences between men and women better; and we can see how the approach of the other gender adds value, it will be so much easier for women to succeed in organisations.
The best teams and organisations balance male and female behaviour and aim for mixed gender teams. The best performance in innovation, seeing new opportunities, product design, marketing, advertising and sales comes from teams that intuitively understand both men and women; mixed gender teams.
Women need to speak up in the right way about the right things, so their voice can be heard.
This is what Gender Smart Women need to do:
- Speak up about their observations, as they are unique. If they don’t vital points of view are lost, and organisations miss out.
- Highlight the value of their contribution. As the way women do business is different, but can be just as effective as that of men. However, it’s often not seen and not valued.
- Frame their way of working, explaining up front what they are doing, and what the expected results can be. As it is different, it is often not trusted or seen as not credible.
- Be vocal and explicit about what they need from their manager. Managers are often unaware of what women need to perform best, as it can differ from what men need.
- Join a peer network to build their confidence, keep up morale and get inspired
Team leaders need to adapt their style so it works for both men and women.
This is what Gender Smart leaders need to do:
- Motivate men by giving short, concrete tasks with a clear end-result. Highlight impact on status. Motivate women by giving the context to a task. Highlight impact on people or society.
- Invite women at the table, ask for ambitions and encourage them to apply for new challenges to enable progress of women. As their psychological wiring can cause them to be more reluctant to pose an opinion, put themselves forward, take their place at the table and broadcast their achievements.
- Acknowledge and visibly support and value a different style of working.
Organisations need to create an environment that works for both men and women. This is what Gender Smart organisations need to do:
- Adapt the language they use to include words that are more about nurturing, process, partnering, cooperation and consultation.
- Be more transparent to encourage a true meritocracy
- Challenge preconceived ideas on what leaders and potential looks like and for instance make women visible as role models and encourage them to share their experiences.
- Support peer networks, where women can safely share with others like them. These networks are a powerful way to inspire women, and are vital to keep up their self-belief and morale.
- Ensure men and women are aware of the preferences of the other gender and take those into account when interacting at work to create high performing teams.
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