Is There A Feminine Advantage In The Workplace?

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Although the struggle of boys has been well documented, as has the gains women have made in education, that shift appears incongruous with the make-up at the highest echelons of our current workforce – women hold less than 4% of the CEO roles on the Fortune 500 list.

By Leah Eichler (Founder, Femme-O-Nomics)

When Microsoft announced that Julie Larson-Green would lead all Windows software and hardware engineering, CEO Steve Ballmer praised her on her ability to collaborate. This appeared in stark contract, with her predecessor, Windows’ President Steven Sinofsky, who was known not to play well with others.

When Lockheed Martin announced that Marillyn Hewson will take the reigns as the defense company’s first female CEO – after the very public resignation of Christopher Kubasik for his infidelity – the Washington Post characterized her as “warm and personable.”

This week, Deutsche Bank advertised that it was on the lookout for more females and thus team-oriented bankers.

True or not, it’s almost universally acknowledged that women trump men in softer social skills.

Although, I struggle to recall when a top, male executive was praised in the media for his like-ability, this perception that women possess these apparently natural social skills increasingly seems to work to their advantage. This cliché played out deliciously in a satirical blog post on Jezebel.com, which asked “Is America ready for a white, male Secretary of State?” The piece suggested that only a woman could possess the intuition and emotional intelligence necessary for such a demanding job.

Dr. Ronald Burke, Professor Emeritus of Organization Studies at the Schulich School of Business, observed that there is a body of research to back up this generalization and some companies might be included to hire women based on their perceived leadership style.

“There is lots of evidence that transformational leadership approaches are more likely to have productive units and women score higher on that,” said Dr. Burke, who noted that leading edge companies are quickly adopting managerial approaches that remain consistent with these feminine traits.

“Men are more likely to use “command and control” approach but it turns out that isn’t as productive,” he added.

If indeed a gender-specific approach to leadership does exists, then we need to look more closely at how we are socializing our children.

Warren Farrell, the author of the “Myth Of Male Power: Why Men Are The Disposable Sex”, argues that boys are suffering from a “failure to launch” in virtually all industrialized nations, lagging behind girls in reading, writing and college attendance.

He credits this trend to a “perfect storm” of higher divorce rates, more primary mother care and less boundary enforcement, which leads to less capacity for exercising postponed gratification. The socialization of boys also contributes to a concept of power that is no longer sustainable or outdated.

“Men unconsciously have learned to define power as ‘feeling obligated to earn money someone else spends while we die sooner,’” said Mr. Farrell.

“On the other hand, if we define power as ‘control over one’s life’ – which I believe needs to be our evolutionary shift in the definition of power – then that’s the type of power women are more likely to have,” he added.

Although the struggle of boys has been well documented, as has the gains women have made in education – that shift appears incongruous with the make-up at the highest echelons of our current workforce, where women hold less than 4% of the CEO roles on the Fortune 500 list.

Perhaps the media’s scrutiny of a few, high-profile success stories, such as Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer, skews the perception that women have finally arrived. Recent books like Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men” and Liza Mundy’s “The Richer Sex” fan the flames and allude to the existence of a new matriarchy.

We need to quash the misconception that men are the new minority in the workforce, since it risks triggering a backlash to the modest advancements women have made.

“The truth of the matter is that it isn’t easier for women to secure jobs or promotions. It’s not true what so ever. If it were, we would have more women in CEO positions in the FP500,” argued Michael Bach, the director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at KPMG.

Mr. Bach has observed some resistance to the modest advancements of women in the workforce from men and women alike. But the claim of having a feminine advantage just doesn’t mesh with reality.

“I’ve never ever seen an employer replace a man with a woman solely because of their gender. That would be an absurd employment practice, and it’s highly insulting to the skills the woman brings to the job,” said Mr. Bach, adding that it would be “business suicide for any organization to prioritize gender, or any other personal characteristic, over skill.”

He attributes these complaints about men being the new minority from those who don’t understand the value of diversity. The come from the same chorus of critics who argue that everyone should be treated the same.

“Why would you treat everyone the same when not everyone is the same?” questioned Mr. Bach.

“When men can physically carry a baby to term, we can treat everyone the same,” he quipped.

This post was originally published at Femmeonomics.

About the guest blogger: Leah Eichler is the Founder of Femme-O-Nomics, a content portal for professional women. She is also the Founder of r/ally, a mobile collaboration app. Leah is a columnist on issues surrounding women in the workplace. Follow her on Twitter at @femmeonomics.