Men and Women: Leveraging Our Differences

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By Caroline Turner
2013 ICAN Women’s Leadership Conference Breakout Speaker

More and more, studies demonstrate the connection between gender diversity in the upper ranks of business – and higher returns. What is it about having both men and women in leadership that helps the bottom line? Do men and women lead differently? Is the combination a good thing?

A recent blog, published on SmartBlogs, suggested that companies do better when they have women leaders because of the “leadership strengths of women”. Summarizing the research on this topic, the authors noted a number of strengths of women: they are inclusive and collaborative, consult more when making decisions and view the world holistically. There seems to be a trend to praise “women’s” ways of working. That is a good thing given the centuries-old preference for “men’s” approach to work.

But there is a problem with this. Women do not all work and lead alike – any more than all men do. Describing “women’s leadership” and “women’s” contributions to the workplace involve stereotyping. “Male does not equal “masculine”; female does not equal “feminine”. Many women work and lead in a masculine way; many men incorporate “feminine” strengths at work.

There are real strengths of feminine forms of working and leading, including those noted (and attributed to women). Men can and do display them too. And there are real strengths of masculine approaches, which both men and women use. The most effective people at work have a balance of both. They know when to use which. They can “shift” depending on circumstances – what they are trying to accomplish and who is involved.

The best leaders value and leverage the strengths of both in the people who work with them. As a result, people with feminine strengths and people with masculine strengths feel valued and included. That means that more people are engaged. Higher engagement drives greater productivity and results.

Having people with both masculine and feminine approaches can also lead to better decisions. Research shows that heterogeneous groups process information more carefully than homogeneous groups. Masculine thinkers will keep the group focused on the goal. Feminine thinkers will gather and synthesize input and be sure all the important issues are considered. The decision will be better than if made by all masculine, or all feminine, thinkers.

Because more women than men demonstrate feminine strengths, having more women makes it more likely an organization will have feminine as well as masculine strengths. It will have the advantages of both strengths. It is more likely to have a culture of inclusion and engagement. And the decisions made in such an organization will be better and more sustainable. Having gender diversity at the top simply makes all this more likely. This is why companies with more women at the top do better.

My mission is to help men and women utilize the strengths of both masculine and feminine approaches. It is to help leaders appreciate and leverage both – and so capture those higher returns that come with gender diversity.

Why do you think gender diversity in leadership is linked with better business results?

Caroline Turner, principal of DifferenceWORKS, is an expert on gender and generational differences. Her book, Difference Works: Improving Retention, Productivity and Profitability through Inclusion, was published in 2012.

Prior publication: This blog has not been published in this exact form before. A similar blog (different title and several differences) will be published at www.difference-works.com/blog, March 5, 2013 and incorporated into Caroline Turner’s monthly newsletter.