Patty Beach and Roger Toennis believe that “scrubbing” our vocabulary of the terms masculine and feminine play into our culture’s challenges with gender.
In many cases there are words that are just not wise to use in a business setting. You always know when you’ve stumbled on one of those words when you get the “deer in the headlights” look from your clients or colleagues. One example is the F-word. Umm, not the one we are sure you are thinking about…. We are talking about the word Feminine.
Apparently, talking about things being feminine creates discomfort for men and makes it less likely for men to take an interest in the topic. Using the word “feminine” at work immediately falls into a treacherous danger zone that makes everyone want to “run and hide.” It’s not just men who want to run though. Women are as allergic to the F-word when brought up in a mixed-gender setting at work.
In our line of business avoiding the word Feminine is hard to do because we are the authors and advocates of a concept called Versatility. Having Versatility (as we define it) is simply intentionally valuing and using both masculine and feminine strengths to solve problems. A high Versatility Factor occurs when a person has a higher positive self-association with both sets of strengths.
Gender studies research shows that those with a positive self-association to both masculine and feminine strengths tend to have…
- A balanced perspective
- A wider spectrum of strengths to call on
- Less stereotypical restrictions imposed on self and others
- Les unconscious biases against the opposite gender
We are eager to see results of our assessment to further explore the value of seeking a balance of masculine and feminine strengths. We are curious to find out Versatility Factor scores vary by gender, age, role or industry. We believe that the Versatility model, language and research will help individuals, teams and businesses create more inclusive, innovative and balanced work environments. We also hope to prove a link between Versatility Factor scores and business results e.g. sales, retention of key employees, etc.
Unfortunately, we keep running up against the F-word barrier to this valuable line of inquiry. We are often told that the concept of Versatility “just makes sense” and is “valid and valuable.” Regardless of resonance we are also often cautioned to move away from the words masculine and feminine. Perhaps we might try the term “circle strengths” for feminine strengths and “triangle strengths” for masculine strengths. When this conversation happens we have just entered the “insight zone.” This type of sidestepping behavior surfaces the issue that prevents the balance we seek.
If we cave in to the idea that we should just scrub masculine and feminine from our business vocabulary we become colluders in an unconscious dysfunctional paradigm. This dysfunctional paradigm is the out dated belief that there is something undesirable about feminine attributes that should be avoided in all conversations regarding men; and by extension, any and all manly endeavors, like business. Well, f*#/$ that!
The set of strengths known as feminine strengths are nothing to be afraid of or avoided. They are just a set of strengths that are desperately needed by humanity. They have been proven in every way to be linked to personal, professional and business success. Furthermore, the set of strengths known as feminine strengths is not the sole jurisdiction of women, even if we call them feminine! People of every gender identity have feminine strengths, just as they also have masculine strengths. The data from our Versatility Factor profile proves this. While women tend to score slightly higher in feminine strengths on average than men, people of every gender identity self-associate with positive feminine qualities.
Feminine strengths are a business imperative and are often lacking in business work processes and cultures. This is not surprising given the fact you can’t even say the word feminine at the office without triggering a shushing and shaming reaction. It is also not surprising when women are eager to embrace their masculine strengths yet men hesitate to reciprocate by adopting their own feminine strengths. As long as we have half men and women on the planet, this will create an imbalance and perpetuates the pattern of masculine strengths overpowering feminine strengths.
Interestingly enough, women seem to have no problem with talking about having masculine strengths. In fact, most women are eager to see their masculine scores on their Versatility Factor Profile and to grow that set of strengths if their scores are low. Women in our workshops enjoy the permission to finally talk about the unconscious biases and patterns that prevent them and their work place from achieving balance. Men that attend our talks and workshops also enjoy measuring and validating their balance of masculine and feminine strengths using our profile. It just takes them a little longer to get comfortable with the idea.
We believe that at some point in the very near future this linguistic barrier will disappear. In the past, the words gay, lesbian and transgendered were forbidden. Now they are permissible to use in almost any setting. This linguistic breakthrough allows for a deeper understanding of the complexities of gender. When we talk about masculine and feminine strengths we are not talking about a person’s physical gender or gender identity. We are talking about archetypal strengths that apply to anyone or anything. Feminine strengths are simply a set of strengths that have historically been associated with women’s behaviors and biology and masculine strengths are a set of strengths that have historically been associated with men’s behaviors and biology. The terms masculine and feminine have been around since the inception of words and are used by psychologists, scholars, philosophers, marketers, architects and artists to describe polar opposite patterns.
All it takes to make the breakthrough to a Versatile work place is for men and women to start using the F-word in business without apology. We encourage you to muster the courage to adopt and own masculine and feminine strengths despite external repression. Even more importantly, don’t give in to your internal repression. To what extent do you give yourself permission to be both masculine and feminine? If both sets of qualities are equally valuable; why not pursue them both? What can you do to grow a balanced set of strengths in your personal and professional life? What can you do to support a more inclusive and balanced workplace? This is the conversation we refuse to run from that our work supports. Will you join us?
Photo credit: Flickr/Manuel Lao