With so many organizations competing for the women of the world, trying to get them to take notice and join up with them (instead of their competitors) I’ve noticed something disturbing: It’s not working. Though some have enjoyed moderate success at upping the numbers of female leaders on the payroll – too many (far too many) are struggling. As of April, only 15 of the Fortune 500 were led by women CEOs. That’s just 3%? – Pathetic. I think – and bear with me here – that I have identified the primary reason that so many of us long to achievie gender balance on our teams. Ready? Here it is: We keep trying to treat women as equals…..huge mistake. Now I’ve heard all the arguments: “a woman can do anything a man can do.” and, “women are just as good at men in the workplace.” But it never quite registered with me as the right approach.
I can’t remember where I first heard the following line, but I remember that I instantly believed it; and it solidified my understanding of the gender equality debate in one sentence.
“For a woman to be equal to a man, all she has to do is take a giant step down.”
You can blame my father for first planting the seed to that idea. Though my memories of him have faded over the years, I do clearly remember the first time he made me open the door for my mother, and then leaned over to ask if I knew why I should; “We open the door for women not because they can’t get it for themselves, but because they are better people than we are, and shouldn’t have to.” Maybe it’s because my mother was and is so …good.. that I found that easy to believe, and have acted accordingly since. (My father, among other things, was apparently a philosophical pioneer)
The well-intended discussions and flat out battles for equality in the workplace have come from the low ground and – not to let the facts get in the way of a good debate – I want to point out some things that should make us all scratch our heads and consider that perhaps – besides that us guys should be the ones fighting for equal pay and opportunities – the problem with our diversity numbers is not about recruiting. It’s that most organizations fail to fully respect the value gender diversity brings to the organization. Increasing the women on the team does not make the team fair – it makes the team better – because (sorry about this fellas) the women are better than we are.
(Note: I’d like to thank all the women who read this far before deciding to have me killed)
Women are Smarter than Men:
While there is certainly research that makes the opposite claim, consideration for what “smart” actually means, specifically as it applies to usefulness on the job (any job) must be part of the question. If “math smart” and “science smart” are the only factors (as any comparison based on IQ alone considers) then the juries of the scientific world are most definitely in a heated tie for a conclusion. While there are more male geniuses than females, there are far more idiot males. When you consider the “other” smarts like “relationship smart”, “conversational smart”, and “intuitive smart” – three very powerful business skills – the girls pull clearly ahead. If my brothers out there are having a hard time conceding any of the “smarts” to women, you’re going to have to give it to them on the “get the job done smart” as 200,000 more women than men achieved a bachelors degree last year. Or as Tom Peter’s put it once, “more men than women attend college, but the women stay.”
Women are Better Negotiators than Men:
In the World Business May, 2006 cover story “Say it Like a Woman – Why the 21st century negotiator will need the female touch.” Horacio Falcoa lays out all of the strengths that women have over men in the necessary business and leadership skill of negotiation:
- Ability to put themselves in their counterparts shoes
- Comprehensive, attentive, and details communication style
- Empathy that facilitates trust-building
- Curious and attentive listeners
- Less competitive attitude (yes – less CAN be better)
- Strong sense of fairness and ability to persuade
- Proactive risk managers
- Collaborative decision makers
With so much of business being negotiation of all varieties, it’s no wonder that these skills give women a considerable advantage and increased value over men in the workplace.
Women are Better Sellers than Men:
In Nicki Joy and Susan Kane- Benson’s book “Selling is a Woman’s Game,” they lay out fifteen compelling reasons why women are better salespersons than men are. Turns out that the ability to managing more things at once, pay more attention to appearance, asking more questions in conversation, paying attention to the details, and enjoying a recap to the days events are among just some of the things that women do better that make them better at the persuasive art of selling than men are.
Women are Better Leaders/Managers than Men:
Old news – like a decade old: An article in Business Week way back in 2000 laid out the data from a collection of studies into the performance of women as executive leaders and managers. “As Leaders, Women Rule: New studies find that female managers outshine their male counterparts in almost every measure.” lays out the bad news for the good old boys. Judged by peers, subordinates, and superiors, women outscored men on 42 of 52 perfromance factors. That’s not just a little better – its significantly better. That women have crossed that perfomance border, but not actually been significantly rewarded in kind (remember those 15 of 500 CEOs) is caused by more than just their industry’s failure to promote them. In her must-read post on the Harvard Business Review, Sylvia Ann Hewlett talks about the tendency of women to leave for greener pastures when faced with jobs that don’t challenge. She also points out that the following bit of wake-up research:
Research conducted by both Catalyst and McKinsey & Company demonstrates that companies with significant numbers of women in management have a much higher return on investment. In addition, a recent study from London Business School shows that when work teams are split 50-50 between men and women, productivity goes up. Gender balance, the research posits, counters groupthink — the tendency of homogenous groups to staunchly defend wrong-headed ideas because everyone in the group thinks the same way.
My favorite study, published last October by CERAM Business School, showed that firms in the CAC 40 (the French equivalent of the Dow Jones Industrial Average) with a high ratio of women in top management showed better resistance to the financial crisis. The fewer female managers a company has, the greater drop in its share price since January 2008.
The Wrong Answer to the Right Question:
I’m hardly qualified – and it may just be a guess – but I believe that the answer to the “How can we attract more women to our organization?” question is not about recruiting. Frustrated women (read: great performers who are treated not so great) leave the ranks and advertise against you louder than the most clever commercials. Attracting more women is about displaying a manifest respect for the women in the organization already. That isn’t done by “valuing how alike” they are. It’s about treating them as if you understanding why so many of the things that make them different make them a better deal than the alternatives. As with anything (and every group of people) there are going to be examples of outliers, good and bad, to make a good argument for me being full of it – but I am talking about the average. My father – way back in the mid 70s – was right, the average women is a better person than the average man. They shouldn’t be fighting for “equality” in the workplace (of all places), we should be handing it to them and asking if there is anything else we can do to help…. And get the door while you’re at it.
disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of the Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Coast Guard.