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The Problem With Women In Business Is...

17/05/2017 13:26
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Well that got your attention!

I suspect your reaction wasn't that dissimilar to mine when I was asked to comment on an article appearing in the Harvard Business Review. It was just as provocatively sexist, but written by a woman generalising about men (which is probably why it was published).

The upshot of the piece was that in the author's extensive experience of running leadership development programmes, women are generally adventurous, open and empathetic. Men, on the other hand are allegedly guarded, fact rather than feelings based and competitive.

Outrageous cliches and her competence as a facilitator aside, her argument was fundamentally flawed (as they so often are) by the fact that the organisations she referenced were and had been very successful at delivering shareholder value for decades. Quite an achievement if staffed by knuckle-dragging Neanderthals incapable of adventurous thought or empathy.

The article, like so many sexist polemics, is badly written, inflammatory and hopelessly over simplistic. It is strewn with the sort of anti-male, casual sexism that is becoming a little too prevalent and starting to cause the sort of problems for men that casual sexism caused women in the not so distant past.

Sure, most people understand that sexism, like other forms of discrimination in the workplace is an abomination. Most of us now represent generations where, having seen bad practice, we actively pursue best. We also recognise that we all have a duty to redress the imbalance that resulted from the sins of our "fathers". But two wrongs don't make a right, as the saying goes. I hope that we're bright enough to understand that replacing one set of sexist practice with another, however ironic, is a nonsense and won't be tolerated either. If men are innately competitive, what is likely to happen if you attack them without just cause?

No generalised argument defining one sex as faultless and another as a role model can be credible. As individuals we have unique strengths and development areas that manifest themselves in our behaviour patterns be these driven by nature or nurture. All leaders certainly need to be aware of these patterns at an individual level and the values driving them and every workplace should actively manage the culture that stems from the sum of those behaviours and the way that is displayed to customers daily.

It is unhelpful and even harmful to continue to generalise about the sexes. Stereotyping men as confrontational or competitive is at best negative thinking and discriminatory and at worst would elicit an aggressive defensive reaction that certainly wouldn't help further the female cause, were it true. Depicting women as soft, fluffy, willing and over emotional, on the other hand, is simply wrong and marginalises 50% of the population, again undermining the female cause at such a critical time.

It is perfectly good practice to break down workplace demographics in order to track the root causes of workplace culture challenges to tailor appropriate solutions for a particular part of the work force. But I can't recall a single project where the answer lay in either persecuting one sex in order to promote the other or in patronising with platitudes and cliches.

Successful, sustainable businesses are well led and adapt, develop and cultivate organisation cultures fit for purpose. They thrive on diversity and challenge. Most of us recognise that the sexist working cultures of the last century were and are out of kilter with the needs of customers in the century ahead. We don't need to promote equality by denigrating any important group. They all represent customers and have something unique to offer. We should be accepting and respecting difference whether exemplified by people from different national cultures, Gen Y, mums, dads or even (yes I said it) the middle aged!

So, at the risk of conforming to type and coming across all emotionally retarded and such, I offer these final thoughts to the author of the piece (you know who you are) - you can shove your casual sexism where the sun don't shine. And I mean that in the most adventurous and effusive way possible.

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