Different—in a Good Way
The thing about opening that boardroom door to women is that firms aren’t just expanding their talent pool at random; they are expanding it specifically to include women. And women, as we all know, are different from men. Different, it turns out, in very useful ways.
We know instinctively that women do business differently than men do. We can’t help it. It is hardwired into our genes. For decades, though, women thought they had to be like men to get ahead. Our voices had to be louder, our emotions buried deeper, and our shoulders necessarily broader. (There has to be some reason for those hideous 1980s pads.) Think Margaret Thatcher— aka the Iron Lady.
Well, that gender-swapping style doesn’t work for us, and thank goodness, because we are all better off as we are. Both better off and better. It is not just in romance novels that a little yin goes well with the yang. Companies now realize they perform best when they have the right mix of male and female management styles.
The Mars-versus-Venus school of leadership is well studied. It will come as little surprise to all of you that women have a style of management that is more open and more inclusive than that of the other sex. We are more likely to encourage participation in meetings, and we tend to be more nurturing of subordinates. We prefer consensus to confrontation and empathy over ego.
Speaking of ego, Harvard Business School has even done research showing female stars are more valuable than male stars.12 There is evidence that company superstars aren’t very portable—they don’t transfer very well and tend to perform less well in their new firm than their old one. Unless a company can hire the star and his whole team, it is likely that his megasalary will be wasted, because the newly recruited star player has a hard time building new relationships. However, early in 2008 Professor Boris Groysberg released research suggesting this second – act rule doesn’t apply to women.13 Groysberg gathered data on nearly a thousand Wall Street analysts and found that if women shone at their last firm, then they will continue to shine just as brightly at their next, even without their backup team. He credited this to women’s unique ability to build such good relationships with clients and peers that they can re-create those networks wherever they go. It’s just one indication of how women’s natural social skills translate well in the business environment.
What’s surprising really is that for so long women knew that these qualities of inclusiveness, empathy, and a flexible approach to problem solving were useful in our personal lives, marriages, and friendships, but we failed to realize that they are also great resources in our professional lives. They are needed more and more in a business world that increasingly values right-brain empathy over left-brain number-crunching.
It’s something Geraldine Laybourne, the founder and former CEO of the Oxygen Media Network and the former president of Nickelodeon, always instinctively understood, even if discussing it wasn’t politically correct.
“I had been president of Nickelodeon for about four years, and people were astounded that I had taken it from a moribund nothing, to something great in four years,” she remembers. Her higher-ups asked her to talk about her success at a conference. “So I made a speech about why I had succeeded, and it was called ‘Because I am a Woman.’ And you could have heard a pin drop in this place, and the women were aghast. . . I mean this is in the 1980s.” She laughs. “Don’t call attention to it, don’t say you’re different.”
Across the Atlantic a group of British captains of industry and commerce got together to envisage the workplace of the future. The Chartered Management Institute jumped forward a decade to 2018 and, in the first report of its kind, predicted a workplace that is more fluid, more virtual, less office-bound. It is one where the demands for women’s management skills will be stronger than ever.14 The report said that as the social changes from the past thirty years really take hold, women will move into higher management positions because their skills will be essential to this new way of working. The CM I found that recruiters are looking for emotional intelligence and the ability to appreciate people’s values as much as they are looking for technical competency.
But don’t worry, you don’t need to wait until 2018. Companies already understand they need you.
Dan McGinn is CEO of a consulting group in Arlington, Virginia. He’s been in the business twenty years and used to only employ women on a traditional career path who worked fifty – hour weeks. “Women as men,” he calls it. He’s changed his mind. Radically. He’s now a cheerleader for employing women on their time terms, something he says he’d never have done a decade ago. “About six or seven years ago I started to focus more on productivity and success and less on rigid rules. It dawned on me that there was this whole pool of talented women I was missing out on.”
McGinn changed his thinking and then his business practice. “We’re in a brain race—we win if we get the best brain power. And if you think that way, it gets you out of the box in your office and it gets you off the clock. It’s not about location or time, it’s about the best ideas, the best intellectual power. When you think that way, you immediately become a lot more flexible.”
And it’s not just that women are diligent and efficient. McGinn says they give him an outlook on his clients’ needs that he just wouldn’t get from men.
Until recently, the image of the ideal corporate leader was of someone who is independent, tough, and egocentric—think John Wayne meets Lee Iacocca. That might have worked back in an age when people had jobs for life and followed hierarchies with little question—when the workforce itself was largely male. But the new work environment demands a new type of leader. Technology and the expanded education of professionals have combined to shake up the old style of working. What it means is that a woman’s perspective, our style, is now understood as unique and irreplaceable. Our bosses know it—though you probably had no idea.
claire The TV business is by definition a group effort. We rely on the contributions of researchers, producers, reporters, camera people, and editors. Without any one of them the on-air product just won’t happen, and without their enthusiastic participation, it certainly won’t be as good as it could be. But it’s really the producer’s job to manage all of these personalities. That was my starting role in the business, and it’s one I found I had a knack for. I could keep a lot of balls in the air, soothe troubled egos, convince reluctant subjects to talk to us, and put a story together, all while keeping a firm order of priorities in my mind as we labored not to miss the deadline. I’ve wondered why, as I’ve studied our business over the last decade, so many of our talented producers are women. It wasn’t until I started working on this book that I understood we have a natural talent for just this sort of management.
If you think for even a few minutes, you can probably come up with a handful of examples of what you bring to the table in your profession that men might not.
katty As a journalist I find I cover news differently from my male colleagues. It’s not just that as a woman I look different on TV. It’s more fundamental than that. I identify and pursue important stories that my male counterparts wouldn’t even glance at. Back in 2000 I was fascinated to read that professional women were leaving the workforce in large numbers. None of my male colleagues thought it was very interesting. But I saw it as a story that could have huge popular interest—and it did. Even hard-nosed political stories look different to me as a woman. In the early days of the 2008 presidential primaries I insisted we do a piece on why it had taken America so long to get even somewhat close to having a serious female candidate. My male editor was reluctant, but I pushed, and the story ended up being one of the best pieces we did. My value as a woman on air goes beyond tokenism or a desire to pretty up the picture, and
my editors know that. Women add something different. Sometimes it’s intangible, but switch one of us out for a man and the product won’t be the same. This is definitely not limited to journalism or TV – it’s true in businesses across the board. Whether you are in management, sales, marketing, research, medicine, law, or finance, you are valuable in part because of your female take on things. Now that we know this little, earth-shattering fact, it’s time for us to use it.
The female knack of getting people to feel good about themselves means employees are likely to perform better and feel more committed to their employers. USC Professor Judy Rosener has found that women are more able to get subordinates to transform their own self-interest into the goals of the organization. She calls the leadership style “transformational” and “interactive.” “Women encourage participation, share power and information, enhance other people’s self-worth, and get others excited about their work,” she explains.
Oh, and another reason working women and particularly working women with a compelling outside interest are great employees? We are beyond efficient. We would argue, in fact, that there is no one more efficient than a working mother. Remember the days before little Charlie and Isabel? The days when you’d be happy to doodle your way through interminable meetings, chat to your colleagues over coffee in the hallway, or hang out in the local bar for a post work cocktail? Well, add kids into your life, and suddenly your attitude to work changes, for the better.
Meetings? Short, sharp, and to the point. Doodling? Forget it, no time. Leisurely caffeine-fueled gossip sessions? No thanks. And as for drinks after work? Not unless our careers are seriously on the line. No. Postkids, we have become lean, mean, work machines. In and out of that office as fast as possible. And guess what’s happened? We have cut our office hours and we do our jobs just as well (if not better) because we are hyper – focused.