Men and women are the same. Their unique biologies have no effect on them whatsoever, beyond the specific dynamics of reproduction. It’s possible to raise boys and girls in ways that eliminate any differences that biology might have caused. Girls enjoy dolls, and boys “warrior” play only because we have taught them to do that.
And on it goes. This was the dominant theory in which many of us were raised, and attempted to raise our own children. Yet it seems the theory is not quite right. While we should never limit a human being’s desire to express themselves in whatever creative, life enhancing form they choose, we clearly see trends in choice and style that seem to have their roots in reproductive biology. Sure enough, culture can potentiate that biology, and at times historically has over-read the limitations and strengths of our gender-based differences, however, it would seem they exist nonetheless.
The problem is that leveraging those differences — to enhance innovation, to grow our companies, to more effectively sell our products — requires that we acknowledge and explore them, and that’s still dangerous ground.
We’re looking for a conversation
Well here we go. But before we really start, let’s agree that this white paper is an absolutely non-exhaustive exploration. It’s hung out to start some conversation, some dialogue, some growth. Not to pick a fight or offend. The form of this white paper will feel different than most… we’re going to share a bunch of “provocations” which really are questions, not answers. We would like some answers though. We want to improve our understanding of ways that we might strengthen teams utilizing any differences in style/preference/thinking. We’re looking for a conversation that seeks value in difference, rather than a gator-esque diatribe that seeks superiority in differences and points fingers at offense.
Have you noticed that there are a growing number of men’s and women’s groups that meet on a regular basis? Not as “old boys networks” and “gab fests” (to use the derogatory) but as serious conversations about how to be better men, better women, husbands, wives, parents, citizens… in a conversation unencumbered by the presence of the opposite gender. How DARE they! Don’t they know that such behavior only foments further derogatory, sexist, misogynistic, male-bashing, female-hating behavior? We should be as easy in our conversation with the opposite gender as we are with our own!
But that’s not what seems to be happening in these single gender groups. Matter of fact, New & Improved is occasionally asked to offer retreats for professional development that are intentionally single gendered. And you know us well enough to know that we work for the constructive, not destructive. Attendees seem to get good value from them and ask for more. Value that allows for better working with, learning from, and supporting of the “other” gender. Now why is that?
PROVOCATION: Traditionally, we seemed to have a culture that overtly valued men more than women… men voted, men owned businesses, men could own land, men led the churches, ran the schools, ran the companies. The language and behavior of the culture undervalued the roles that women were taking on. Then we had a rebellion (or are having a rebellion) where women (and some men) sought to (rightly in our opinion) create something different, and better for women. We seem to be in a stage of that process where derogatory references to “male” qualities predominate, and (it’s scary to write this) it is unsafe to look at weakness in female culture. We still tend to blamestorm. So we avoid the conversation in general. Wouldn’t it be great if we could look at the style/culture/preference differences in men and women and GROW because of our conversation? It’s a safe bet that there are good and not-so-good things about every style difference, even those that are gender-based. Can we truly honor and leverage the great, if we don’t also explore the not-so-great? Not with “blame” but with curiosity.
PROVOCATION: Dr. Patricia Heim, a wonderful teacher in the area of gender dynamics, talks about communication style differences between men and women in terms of “gender culture.” While she acknowledges that there are probably some biologic drivers potentiated by the overall culture, she focuses on trends in communication style that, if well understood, can lead to significant increases in the ability to hear, learn from, accept, and value the different thinking of the opposite gender.
PROVOCATION: So. Should men learn to think and act more as women do, and should women learn to think and act as men do? Yes, we think that it’s important for all of us to expand our range of expression, and each gender would do well to learn from the other. Yet, we also know that innovation thrives in diversity, so long as the differences are seen with respect and curiosity. We say “viva la difference!” Let’s use our differences as creative wellsprings for improvement. Let’s acknowledge our differences so we can use them well, rather than so we can all move toward a genderless culture. At the same time, let’s support each other in roles outside of our traditional gender roles. It’s the folks who step out of what is traditional that bring innovative new perspectives, and we all get value from that.
DO THIS: Make it your intention today to see a difference in the way the genders bring value to solving a problem. Then, find the strength in the value that the “other” brings. Don’t succumb to the temptation to do this from stereotypical perspective… When you find yourself saying, “they’re so wrong!“ or “typical woman” or “typical man,” pay attention to that. Now, overcome that thinking. You’ve just opened your mind to a whole new range of possible innovation. Nice job. You’ve practiced some good mental hygiene.