Men’s Guide to Ultimate Power – Strategy #2

Here is the third excerpt from my upcoming book. I posted the Introduction and the first of 50 strategies over the last two weeks. I welcome your feedback!

“Men’s Guide to Ultimate Power -50 Strategies to Hold Women Back (Or Not)”

Strategy 2. Expect Women to act like Mini-men  


“Therefore to be a more effective communicator, you must begin opening your mind and exploring the subtleties, nuances, and preferences of a foreign culture, the male culture, as if you were preparing to do business in a foreign country.” (Susan Solovic, p 44)

There is a well known Canadian inspirational speaker whose famous advice to women launched him into fame a few years ago. The title of his talk was: “What Women do Wrong in Business.” I went to see him speak to a group of women lawyers and was shocked that he was in his early twenties. Although he had not attended college he had “years” of experience as an entrepreneur. He said he was bothered and dismayed by what he saw happening to women in business deals. They were failing badly and obviously had no idea how men conducted business. As a result women kept making huge mistakes and men were apparently running circles around us and taking full advantage!

Women stumbled in negotiations, left money on the table are were failing to secure big business contracts. He told us that men did not view us as tough enough or serious enough and we were sabotaging ourselves and other women. His solution was to convince us all to start behaving more like men. He told us to speak louder and more assertively, stop trying to be liked and be a bit more “cut-throat.”  Sadly, I watched women line up afterwards to sign up for his coaching program hoping to find out what it really takes to succeed in a man’s world. I had done this my entire life and was living proof that none of his advise really worked.

For my entire career as a lawyer, mediator and professor I was told to act more like a man. Although I was rarely told this directly, I was often pulled aside by well meaning colleagues who told me that in order to be liked and to fit in better I should do things like:

  • Try to avoid pink, yellow or “soft” colors, red was for partners only
  • Wear ‘power” suits, preferably navy or black
  • Wear buttoned up collars, never open neck blouses
  • Stop riding your bike to work
  • Don’t show any legs or cleavage
  • High heels were fine.

There are hundreds of books that tell women that they must behave more like men if they want to be truly successful. Although it might not be obvious from a title, most books for executive women try to convince them that they all need to start looking, acting and even thinking like a man. And on the surface this seems to make sense.

The bestselling book Lean In is the most recent example. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook created an entire revolution based on her best-selling book.  And although a fantastic start, the truth is that Ms Sandberg specifically chose to not talk about institutional barriers and instead decided to speak only on individual barriers. Like the many books before her, she asks women to act more like men. She does not really ask men, corporations, governments or the media (who demean and sexualize women) to change.  In her preface she says this:

“Women face real obstacles in the professional world, including blatant and subtle sexism, discrimination and sexual harassment. Too few workplaces offer the flexibility and access to child care and parental leave that are necessary for pursuing a career while raising children. Men have an easier time finding mentors and sponsors who are invaluable for career progression. Plus women have to prove themselves to a far greater extent than men do.”

But then she goes on to say:

“In addition to the external barriers erected by society, women are hindered by barriers that exist within ourselves. We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self- confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.… My argument is that getting rid of these internal barriers is critical to gaining power. Others have argued that the women can get to the top only when the institutional barriers are gone. This is the ultimate chicken-and-egg situation. … Both sides are right….They are equally important. I am encouraging women to address the chicken [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][women as individuals], but I fully support those who are focusing on the egg.” [the culture and institutions that hold women back]. (my emphasis and bracket insert)

Although I agree that both approaches are necessary, they are most definitely not of equal importance. I do not agree that women should continue to twist themselves in knots and make personal sacrifices to fit into a brutal world. I do not agree that women should exert energy to spend time on both fronts – self and institutions. However, I do know that we women feel a whole lot better when making personal change. We feel in control when we believe change is within our power. We buy self-help books and we get busy on our few minor adjustments. What we don’t realize it that it is just as easy to deal with institutional barriers if we know how. And the impact of these changes is not limited to our personal sphere, but impacts many women over a more sustained period of time.

As a read “Lean In” I was also reminded of Gail Evans, the CNN executive who wrote a book in the late 1990’s similar to Lean In. She told women to be tougher and more manly. Luckily she came to her senses and wrote a follow-up book years later (“She wins, You win”), admitting that her first book was all wrong and that women needed to address the hidden systemic barriers in order to truly succeed.

The truth is that asking women to behave more like men can actually help them – at least in the short term. Many women actually get into higher level positions. Some actually think they are being treated fairly or at least like other men. Others however suffer a deep crisis in confidence, wondering why they can’t seem to fit in. Many lose a chunk of their self-esteem and allow their feminine aspects to atrophy. Too many find it’s just too damn hard to grow a penis and leave – a whole lot poorer.

But it’s not just the women who suffer. Men too suffer from narrow-mindedness and do not have the benefit of diversity and creativity. They cannot appreciate what women bring to the table. Like Henry Higgins in the film, “My Fair Lady” they end up leading a bizarre, lop-sided life when they demand, “Why can’t women just be more like men?”

And the organizations who suffer high turnover and lose these valuable women continue to wonder what they are doing wrong. Why don’t women stay? Why can’t we recruit more women? As women leave in droves, few are left to challenge the very structures that caused them to leave in the first place.

The bottom line. We continuously tell professional women that if they want to succeed in mans’ world, they must look, think and act like men. We are essentially told to “get out of the kitchen if it’s too hot” or that we “don’t have the balls.” We promote women who look and act masculine- but only to a certain point. Eventually someone discovers that the woman is not a man, and new barriers arise. And the deeper problem is that by asking women to become men, we not only compromise women, we masculinize and sterilize workplaces and ultimately hold our entire society back through lack of necessary diversity for sustainability and survival

What to do? Stop telling women they must act more like men. Stop expecting them to wear suits and speak in loud voices. Stop telling them there is something wrong with them if they cry, show empathy or have personal relationship in business. Question our why it is that we so highly value masculine values and characteristics and de-value feminine strengths.  Pay attention to the current business trends that identify critical leadership skills such as emotional intelligence, compassion, collaboration and trust – all more feminine traits. END

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