What Happens when 50% of Leaders are Women?

Welcome to the century of the woman!  There is a trend right now of women moving into positions of power.  We are seeing it in corporations that are committing to 25% of their top leaders being female in the next few years.  We are seeing it in government where we see record numbers of women running for office in the 2018 elections. This is great news!  And studies have shown that companies with more women in Senior Leadership have better outcomes than those with less. But what will happen once women fill these seats?  

How can we adjust organizations to leverage the presence of women, instead of accommodating for them?  What needs to change?

Develop new Decision-Making Frameworks.  Organizations rely on masculine-based decision-making frameworks.  This means that decisions are made through a combination of data and force.  The loudest voice or the most data wins. New leaders are taught how to get people to agree with them.  Feminine-based decision making includes more sensing and intuition, and less reliance on facts. Consider a board meeting where a company is discussing a new product strategy.  A man presents his findings like this, “Our market research shows that we can increase sales by 32% if we launch this new product in the next 7 weeks. By investing $3M now, we can realize a 46% return within 6 months.”  There are a lot of numbers in there which make it seem very official, though it’s all speculative. Suppose a woman responds like this, “Hmmmm, those are impressive numbers Bob, but I just don’t feel like this product will catch on.”  What will the response be? Something like this perhaps? “You agree that the numbers are impressive, and we’re not here to make decisions based on how you feel, so that’s not a factor.  All in favor?!”

Including sensing and emotion in decision-making processes will give companies access to a broader range of possibilities.  In our example above, they might use emotional reaction as a key to experiment and probe before moving forward.

Shift the View of Strategy.  You might notice that women do a kick-ass job up through middle management, but they hit the proverbial glass ceiling.  Let’s look at what happens at the ceiling. There’s more decision making and strategy as you move up in an organization.  In the masculine form, strategy sounds like a battle plan or a football game plan. Strategy in the feminine looks and sounds more like a connecting of the whole by sensing and responding.  The difference sounds like this: “First we’ll roll out the product in our northeast division, followed by the south, then we’ll bring each division online every 6 weeks subsequently.” “Let’s try it in New York and see what we can learn.”  Can you guess which was masculine vs feminine? The masculine fits with our mental model of a strategy, though thanks to recent popularization of the Lean Startup, the feminine model is getting some attention.

Shift away from Behavior-Based Reward and Promotion.  Traditionally we teach women how to act differently in order to move up.  Act more forceful, act more confident, but it seems that the behavior changes don’t work, it’s the perception that needs to change. This  HBR article on male and female behavior in the workplace shows that women are viewed negatively when exhibiting the same behavior that creates positive perception for men. Promotion and rewards based on actual outcomes and contribution will shift the perception of behaviors that create outcomes.

Don’t Require Women to become Masculine.  This is what we’ve done for years.  The women that can operate like a man succeed (this writer is guilty!) and those that can’t are left in the dust.  If you can check your emotions at the door, compartmentalize like a pro, and think in a totally linear way, you move your piece along the game board.  But if you can’t, we never get the opportunity to access the gifts you could bring.

The Change Involves Men.  This is not a women's movement, where we retrain women.  This is about changing the way men AND women work.  Men are just as important in creating the new workplace as women are.

What needs to change in your workplace in order to leverage the strength of both men and women?