Embracing the Feminine in the Workplace

By: RSiegel
Bang! Bang! My shiny metal cap gun sounded as I fired at the imaginary tribe of Indians invading my suburban Atlanta backyard. Two houses down the street, my childhood friend Shelly cuddled her brand new "Chatty Cathy" baby doll.

Growing up in the 50s, our roles were clear: women gather and nest, and men hunt and fight. I was sure that one day I would go into business, and Shelly would be a stay-at-home mom. Twenty years later, Shelly and I were both in business; I was working in a public relations agency, and Shelly had landed a terrific job in a large accounting firm.

It was the 80s, and to succeed in business, Shelly had to dress and act like a man. Shelly did well in business, but at a cost. She had to mask much of her femininity.

When Shelly's daughter enters the business world three years from now, she will find a much different working environment than her mother. Business is increasingly embracing those attributes historically attributed to women. Hierarchy is being slowly replaced by teamwork, goals are balanced with process, and relationships are being valued as much as transitions. Feminine energy is slowly forcing masculine extremes toward the middle.

The image of business today is being altered, says futurist Faith Popcorn in her 1996 bestselling book Clicking. "(Business will be) no longer seen as a war to be won by trouncing the competition, but viewed as a complicated mosaic to be developed, one relationship at a time."

In her book, Popcorn identifies a rising trend for solving business and relational problems with "feminine attributes" such as consensus building, sensitivity, and intuition.

Embracing the Feminine in the Workplace -- Add One

She calls this new trend "FemaleThink" but is quick to point out it is not gender specific. FemaleThink may come more naturally to women, but men can master it as well.

Already, studies are showing that women managers are outperforming men in the workplace (Business Week, November 20, 2000). "In fact, it's becoming evident that the most valuable skills one can have in twenty-first century business are those that women have historically possessed, those having to do with people and process and relationship and connection," writes Matthew Gilbert in his book Communications Miracles at Work.

A more feminine way of communicating is being embraced in today's workplace. According to Gilbert, a feminine communication and interaction style includes being:

More process-oriented; more patient; and more likely to see "shades of gray."

More collaborative; less turf conscious; seeking the "win-win."

Good listeners, facilitators, and coaches.

Open, sensitive, emotional, and empathetic.

Willing to admit mistakes and express concern and/or sympathy.

Business is increasingly rewarding employees for people skills as much as business skills. The reasons are simple: not only is the rising number of women in business influencing company communication, so is the marketplace. As the competition for the most skilled employees intensifies, smart companies are realizing the importance of interpersonal skills in attracting and retaining employees. In the future, only those companies that reward such communication skills as empathy, authenticity, vulnerability, and mutual empowerment will survive and thrive.

Embracing the Feminine in the Workplace -- Add Two

The rising trend of "FemaleThink" doesn't mean men need to be more like women. If that were to happen, we would be no better off than we were in the 80s when many women felt they had to act like men in order to compete in business. Instead, business is challenging both men and women to seek a stronger balance between inner masculine and feminine energies.

Businesswomen may benefit from training in strategic planning and selling skills, while men in business may benefit from training in such skills as listening, sensitivity to interpersonal differences, and giving and receiving constructive feedback.

Corporate cultures must blend the feminine with the masculine. Decisions must be made, but process must be respected. Connection must be as valued as much as competition. Leadership skills must be complemented by consensus building, and men and women must learn to respect each others' styles and learn from one another.
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