Published on April 15th, 2016 | by Nancy F. Clark0
Why Can’t A Woman Be More Like A Man? Vive La Difference!
By Christine Bailey—
“Can’t a woman learn to use her head?
Why do they do ev’rything their mothers do?
Why don’t they grow up – well, like their father instead?
Why can’t a woman take after a man?”
These are lyrics from the song “A Hymn to Him (Why Can’t a Woman be More Like a Man)” from the classic 1964 movie-musical My Fair Lady. It’s a scorchingly sexist song, but we roll our eyes and laugh along because it’s from the ‘60s and we’ve come a long way since then, right?
Then this happens: In late 2015, Google releases a Gmail plug-in called “Just Not Sorry” which purports to help women write stronger, more impactful emails by flagging the words that undermine our messages. In other words: to help a woman be more like a man.
Talk about a giant step backwards.
In response, Amy Allen Martin wrote a brilliant blog entitled, “Why I Won’t Write Emails Like a Man” in which she asks, “Aren’t [women] being recruited because we do think and act differently—and because we can bring a different level and depth of thinking to the Board room?”
Exactly! When it comes to leadership and communication, women are often handed a male playbook. Some of it is sound advice—but we’ve known for a while that many traditional male approaches don’t always serve women well. Now there’s mounting evidence to suggest that many of these tactics may not serve corporations well—and that traditionally feminine values and approaches are increasingly critical to success.
Case in point: Audur Capital
Halla Tomasdottir understands—first hand—the need to balance male and female perspectives in the business world. Halla was hired as CEO of the Iceland Chamber of Commerce in Iceland in 2006 and by 2007 she had mounting concerns about the country’s economy and a male-dominated banking industry that was driven by excessive risk-taking, emphasis on short-term financial gain, and outrageous compensation and bonuses. She resigned from her position at the Chamber and just over a year before Iceland’s economic collapse, she and a female partner founded Audur Capital, a financial services firm with the vision to incorporate more feminine values into finance. They wanted to emphasize risk-awareness and profit with principles to include a long-term approach, emotional capital and straight talking.
Why the need for a female approach to a male dominated industry? As Halla explains, “A lack of diversity leads to disastrous problems. It’s not about women being better than men; it is actually about women being different from men, bringing different values and different ways of working to the table. You get better decision making and less herd behaviour—and both of those things hit your bottom line with very positive results.”
The proof, they say, is in the pudding: Audur Capital made it through the eye of the financial storm in Iceland without taking any direct losses to its equity or to the funds of its clients, and was one of the few, if not the only one to do so.
(As I write this blog, Iceland’s Prime Minister has stepped down due to the Panama Papers scandal and Halla is now running for the Presidency of Iceland. Will she bring feminine values to the national level? Will having diversity around the decision-making table lead to a stronger, more stable government? Stay tuned…)
Remember Mars and Venus?
As John Grey illustrated in his late-90s blockbuster, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” men and women generally have very different communication traits. Kate Russell of BBC Click addressed this point at Cisco’s recent Women of Impact conference with a discussion of male rules vs. female manners.
Photo credit: Maria Ingold from Mireality.co.uk & How to Get What You Want in the Workplace by John Gray
Her keynote address underscored the point that business success is not based on getting one gender to be or speak like the other. We are all far more comfortable and communicate better when we can act like ourselves. However, by acknowledging and understanding each other’s differences—and by ensuring a diversity of perspectives—we can actually build stronger teams that make better decisions.
I am woman—and that’s just fine.
So ladies, please, let’s not try to be more like men. Let’s focus on being the strongest, best, most successful version of ourselves. What does that look like in a professional context? To that end, Cisco set out to qualify the characteristics female executives at our company need to get ahead. Based on multiple data points—including interviews of our European women executives, business and technology research (journal articles and statistics), and interviews with Learning Partners who train women executives—we have learned that our successful female executives need to:
- Build confidence
- Learn to take risks, stepping outside the comfort zone
- Be authentic as leaders and as women
- Build brand and gravitas
- Plan and communicate where they want to go
- Play on their strengths
- Know how to secure sponsors
Perhaps the most important of these is #3: be authentic as a leader—and as a woman. We won’t be half as effective if we try to act and sound like something we’re not.
The bottom line? A lack of gender diversity hurts the bottom line.
Each year since 2005, companies around the world that have more than one woman on their boards have seen a 3.3 percent bigger stock market return than those without any women, according to a 2014 report from Credit Suisse. Another study, cited in the Harvard Business Review, shows that firms with more women in the C-suite are 15% more profitable.
And now we can easily invest in companies that fit this profile: There’s a new Gender Diversity exchange traded fund—with the ticker symbol SHE—that will invest in US-based companies that are leaders in advancing women through gender diversity on their boards of directors and in management.
Will the SHE fund be a stellar performer? Will more companies recognize the importance of having a gender-balanced perspective? And will we—once and for all—stop trying to make women behave more like men?
To answer those questions, I’ll go back to My Fair Lady and quote Eliza Doolittle, “Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly!”
Article photo by Lisa Pollak