Thanks to the release of the romantic comedy “Think Like a Man,” inspired by Steve Harvey’s similarly titled self-help book, everyone seems to be talking about how women can benefit from taking on a masculine approach to life. The film and book address personal relationships, but can this concept be applied to the boardroom?
The number of working women has increased to 72 million (up from 44 million in 1984) and accounts for nearly half of America’s workforce according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Yet, the executive suite remains a man’s world. Women make up only 2.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs.
The gender gap in the corner office is often attributed to unwritten rules of the workplace that favor men. Today’s workplace is fueled by old principles based on masculine norms. Masculine attributes like self-confidence, assertiveness and dominance are more valued than those associated with women. Women find themselves in a catch-22: when they exhibit these “masculine” characteristics, they often fall victim to backlash for being bitchy or less socially skilled.
There’s a stigma carried by female leaders. Leadership requires a person to be decisive and in charge. When a woman takes on this role, they are deemed undesirable. A Work & Power Survey conducted by Elle and MSNBC.com found that the vast majority of respondents who expressed a gender preference for their leaders felt men were more likely to be effective leaders.
The workplace values the traits of men more, but doesn’t want a woman to embody them, lest she be deemed unfriendly. How can a woman win? Researchers at the University of London found that women who suppress their nature in favor of aggressive management styles were less likely to have a cooperative staff. Women fared better when they embraced feminine qualities of sensitivity and good communication. The secret to success is a balancing act, adjusting behavior for each situation with the right mix of male and female traits.
As work becomes more global and collaborative, many companies are turning away from old values in favor of a fresh, feminine approach. Women are more intuitive to bringing in all points of view and are stronger with networking and supporting each other. Rigid hierarchy and top-down management are being dismantled in favor of a more inclusive, collegial style that women are naturally adept.
The face of business is changing in step with how business is done. American women are receiving more college diplomas than men, and are more likely to pursue an advanced degree. Education is a key factor in determining who gets hired. It is inevitable that there will eventually be more women than men in the workplace. In the very near future men will be asking how they can think like a woman to get ahead.
Cortney Cleveland is a freelance writer and content strategist in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter @CleveInTheCity.
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