It’s coming to International Women’s Day again and ahead of March 8, we are assuaged with the usual plethora of webinars, conferences, events, articles and LinkedIn posts reflecting on how much progress we’ve made or not made on either diversity (representation) and inclusion (culture and behaviours).
This morning, I logged onto one such virtual conference which had the usual panel of a few good women and men who weighed in on the topic of leadership and leadership styles. An article from Harvard Business Review was shared about how “Feminine” Values Can Give Tomorrow’s Leaders an Edge. The article and research were published a few years ago, but the perspectives still hold in conversations today. (it was a great virtual conference by the way with great speakers and an excellent discussion over chat. My commentary below does not take away from the quality of the session)
Ironically, if we keep referring to values or traits as “feminine” or “masculine”, or if we keep saying “The world would be a better place if men thought more like women” (which was indeed a question/view posed in the HBR article), we are not going to make more traction in improving gender dversity nor gender inclusion in our communities and work places, much less making this world a better place.
Here’s why: By referring to certain values or traits as “masculine” or “feminine” or by coaching men to think more like women, we continue to uphold gender stereotypes which do no favours for women who have natural strengths in “masculine” traits, for men who have natural strengths in “feminine” traits (yes, there are men who are empathetic and nurturing), nor for the women who excel in “feminine” traits or men who excel in “masculine” traits – which is basically everyone. These traits are all basically great human values and traits. We should resist our unconscious inclination to categorize them and measure individuals against them with a gender lens. By remaining gender neutral on values and characteristics, we empower everyone (women and men) to be their best authentic selves and the sum of all our diverse values and traits in balanced action will make the world better.
So, let’s strive for a more gender neutral and gender inclusive reflection and dialogue this International Women’s Day, because we are all our best selves when we are able to bring that to the table without fretting if it is too “feminine” or “masculine”.