Friday, July 22, 2005

Is Feminine Leadership a Myth?

BlogHer partner Jory Des Jardins has been writing a series of posts over at the Future Tense Blog.

Her topic: feminine leadership.

My role in this? Apparently to be the contrarian and to wake her up too early on Saturday mornings!

It's a great series, and she uses our planning and execution of BlogHer as her laboratory in which to discover that she can and does like working with women!

I tend to be the nay-sayer that women and men have conclusive, distinctive, consistent differences in management style or application of analytical skills. I nay-say because I've been told I lead like a man, but I feel just like a woman. I nay-say because I think that when both men and women buy into those major gender difference in leadership styles and skills it contributes to the "glass ceiling" effect. If we all buy into women always being/demonstrating the qualities that Tom Peters lists (and Jory references):

-Women practice improvisation better than men
-Women are more self-determined and more trust sensitive than men
-Women appreciate and depend upon their intuition more than men do
-Women focus naturally on empowerment, rather than on hierarchical “power”
-Women understand and develop relationships with greater facility than men

If we buy into women naturally "being" those kind of leaders: sensitive, intuitive, nurturing, consensus-building, not into hierarchy (which strike me as all "supportive" qualities)...then that behavior is our expectation, and the first woman who shows up who likes processes, who wants analysis to make her decisions, who has no trouble drawing boundaries, setting expectations, telling it like it is...who is, God forbid, aggressive, as opposed to assertive, then that's why she's the boss from hell, when a man who behaved the same way would be tolerated...hell, probably wouldn't even slightly annoy his and women! Oh yes, women contribute to our own problems here because we're steeped in the same culture of separation.

And what is also pervasive is the "Larry Summers problem"...which is all about looking at what might be wrong with the women first...nature, as it were, then looking at the environment women are trying to succeed in.

This preferred approach to the "problem" of diversity was demonstrated as recently as today, when someone pointed me to this article in the Economist, which included this notable paragraph:

"Why is it proving so difficult for women to reach the top of corporations? Are they simply less ambitious, less excited by the idea of limitless (albeit first-class) travel, late nights and the onerous responsibilities imposed by mounting regulation? "

Oh, yes, let's start with the easy, comfortable question: "what's wrong with these women, why can't they succeed, no matter how many diversity programs we pay lip service to?"

As opposed to saying, "What might be wrong with our educational system, with corporate diversity programs, with the corporate culture, with hiring or promotion processes?" I'll give you a clue...there are no processes. It frees people to hire and promote based on relationships and gut feelings. And I just wonder what feeds those "gut feelings?" Gee, and they say women are the ones who act on intuition!

But, you know, any series of posts that can get me on my soapbox like this? Well, it must have been provocative, well-written and interesting. So, you go, Jory...out me a a "to-the-point" early riser, I don't mind!

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