My friend Luke went to a personal development seminar recently. Being a self-help junkie myself, I was eager to debrief with him. "What was your ah-ha moment?" I asked. He paused and pondered before responding, "Women feel really unworthy."
As a white male, this was a new and powerful realization for Luke. As a female, it was my every day. Of course I felt unworthy. Proverbial neon signs declaring You are not enough! had plagued me in the masculine practice of law. Like many professions (finance, sports, technology), the practice of law is not merely dominated by men, but by masculine energy. My short time as the only female litigator at a large corporate law firm left me with P.T.S.D. flashbacks every time I watched Mad Men. I have spent more time than most studying sexual harassment case law in which women were not only demeaned, but were often asked to choose between their job and sex, or worse: they were stalked, violently attacked, or raped on the job.
To say that women were not welcome in the 1960s American workforce is an understatement. The American feminist movement evolved accordingly. Women entered the male dominated job market, and in order to assimilate, they became masculine. The message was "here is a list of desirable traits that will allow you to excel: assertiveness, competitiveness, being in action, intellectual ability, and winning." This created the Annie Get Your Gun approach to feminism: Anything you can do, I can do better.
As a result, we also created a "B list" of primarily feminine traits that were not valued at work:
emotional intelligence, the art of allowing, receptivity, listening, collaboration, and creativity. Generations later we are just starting to see how these traits contribute to excellence at work. Emotional intelligence provides inclusion for employees and support for customers. Between the extremes of micro-managing and throwing employees into the deep end, lies the art of allowing. Providing direction and room to learn from mistakes is crucial to impactful management and fulfilled employees. Collaboration builds stronger and more communicative teams that are able to identify and resolve problems. And creativity is at the heart of innovation, critical to the evolution of any business.
Statistics show that diverse workforces are more successful and more profitable.1 The inclusion and promotion of women is at the core of corporate success. But conversations that attempt to create a gender-neutral discussion ignore the reality that we have two distinct sexes, each with their own strengths.2 Attempting to masculinize females to fit a set of standards not natural to many women denies who they are and the contributions they make to the workforce. The end result is an industry deprived of important feminine traits that are vital to employee and customer retention, workplace satisfaction, and productivity.
This is a candid, sometimes controversial, conversation, but it is one worth beginning.
2 Not all females are feminine and not all males are masculine. But to discuss the brain, evolution, and social science research related to masculine females and feminine males exceeds the scope of this article.