While delivering many sessions this year to Executive teams, I’ve heard an interesting comment over and over again. I typically ask for the gender representation of a group before I work with them. More often than not, at these very senior levels, I often find that the women are represented in smaller numbers.
What’s been interesting is that when I ask for this information, the woman who is providing me with the gender ratio will often say something like “but she doesn’t count, she acts just like a man”. I’ve thought about this a lot and I think there are several possibilities that could be playing out here:
• Both men and women judge women by women’s rules. So, if a woman is leading in a way that men typically do, both men and women will notice that and it doesn’t feel right.
• Women operate under the Power Dead-Even Rule [where power is shared and no one is above or below in regard to power]. That is, women tend to not like to have a woman exhibit more power and will often not like when a woman is at a senior level, regardless.
• Both men and women have a natural core of strengths. We know from the research that men and women tend to fall in the middle of the bell curve on certain tendencies and behaviors. Because there are two tails to every bell curve, not every man and every woman are representative of the middle of the bell curve. If this woman’s natural tendencies do not fall in the middle of the bell curve, she may behave in a way that is completely natural for her and that may not be appreciated by women who tend to fall more inside the middle of the bell curve.
• It is possible, however, that women in these senior positions, have learned to behave more like men in order to be successful inside the organizational culture [which defines what a leader looks/sounds like]. This means that the woman has had to exert an abundance of physiological energy into Flexing Her Style [the 2nd level of options we discuss in GenderSpeak]. This can be extremely difficult to do, let alone sustain over long periods of time.
A fundamental goal of our group, and the work we do, is to help organizations understand both sets of tools available in the male and female cultures so that people can operate out of their natural strengths.
If your organization hires people who are diverse, and shortly thereafter they realize that they must behave in a certain way because that is the only acceptable way to lead, then people will be forced to abandon their natural strengths and behave in a way that’s not comfortable for them. Doing this on occasion makes sense. Doing this all the time sacrifices the very diversity you hired. You might even be forcing people to consistently behave like the other gender in order to be successful. If your employees are forced to flex their style continually, you’re probably not getting the best contribution out of them and you will often find a leak develops in your talent pipeline.
By the way, this scenario could be the parallel opposite. However, I have never heard the comment when asking about the gender ratio of a group “but he doesn’t count, he acts just like a woman”.
© The Heim Group, LLC 2019