Why the blending of male and female characteristics will lead to success in marketing, business and society
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on why men would benefit from greater gender equality. We all want to create a better world for men, women and future generations, so I’m sharing some thoughts and insights we had on writing the Wonder Women book and am heartened to see them reiterated (and backed up by robust data) in the final chapter of The Authority Gap by Ann Sieghart.
It’s encouraging to see more women in leadership roles, but also interesting that some successful women have got there by managing and leading in a similar way to men (here’s a link to our Thought Piece on archetypes). At the same time, ‘being your authentic self’ is a mantra that many of today’s modern leaders (both male and female) are promoting. Ann Sieghart argues in The Authority Gap that we’ll know we have been successful in creating gender equality when women don’t have to act like men and when men feel they have license to act more like women – taking on broad leadership traits such as empathy, sensitivity, being humble, acknowledging when you are wrong, being comfortable with vulnerability.
If men and women work together, we can create a different way forward. If women come to terms with their masculinity and men get more in touch with their feminine side, these complementary skills could be extremely powerful, bring different perspectives, which can synthesise into more interesting ideas (this idea is also backed up in Rebel Ideas – The Power of Diverse Thinking, by Matthew Syed).
Wonder Women Insights and Thoughts on a Brave New World
In the Wonder Women Insights and Thoughts section, we considered the power of this blend chiefly in the context of brands and marketing, arguing that there should be a more holistic take on the brand that balances masculine and feminine perspectives, enabling teams to build more sustainable and successful brands for the 21st century.
This means that some of the feminine characteristics we heard about so often in our interviews for the book should now get the prominence and respect they are due. Many female characteristics were, in the past, undervalued, or synonymous with weakness but, in the future, they should be recognised as core to marketing and leadership success. The traditional male principles of control and conquest will be tempered by kindness and collaboration.
These powerful ‘feminine’ characteristics focused on:
EMPATHY – the ability to listen attentively and ask questions, understand and think about issues from someone’s else’s perspective, be present and focused on the person or conversation, to see people as people and not just ‘consumers.’ Successful marketers also apply this to their relationships with their teams, colleagues, clients and customers. Not only does it foster a kinder and more caring culture resulting in a healthier, happier and more engaged, creative marketing teams, but it also engenders a deeper understanding and respect for customers and their needs.
INTUITION – neuroscience has now confirmed there is nothing esoteric or magical about it. Our brain captures facts, impressions and information at lightning speed long before our intellect comes into play. Traditionally, intuition was regarded as fluffy because it was not rooted in facts and data. It was almost as if a woman’s intuition had no place in the business of marketing. In today’s world of data overload, being able to make an intuitive leap, then back it up with data, is a real competitive advantage. Women are constantly curious, they notice stuff, which means they are subconsciously gathering data, which is then often expressed as a ‘feeling’ or something that does or does not make sense. There are countless examples of these ‘feelings’ being proved right and resulting in sound marketing decisions.
COMMUNICATION AND COLLABORATION – women like to talk; they ask questions; see things from different perspectives; they encourage and promote individual development; sharing information as well as their thoughts and emotions comes more easily to them; the networks they form are open, inclusive and generous. We were struck by the modesty our Wonder Women exhibited and how often they cited their biggest sense of pride being in the teams they had built together with their strength of relationships with clients and customers. Their success in marketing wasn’t about ‘me,’ it was about ‘us,’ about respecting others, unlocking potential, inspiring and empowering teams to create great brands, campaigns and innovations. One other difference many mentioned was ‘volume.’ Women communicate well but the way they do it is often quieter. It isn’t about how loud you can speak, but what you say when you do.
STAYING REAL AND GROUNDED – this is undoubtedly essential to being connected to your consumer/customer, but it also emerged as key to the success of our female leaders in marketing. Today’s successful leaders know they are not perfect but learn from mistakes and strive for continuous improvement. All of the women we talked to were highly self-aware, constantly challenged themselves and were able to pick themselves up when things went wrong. They had learned to stay true to themselves, bring their whole selves to work and create space for others also to be their authentic selves.
Despite our labelling these as ‘feminine’ characteristics, none of our interviewees wanted to make sweeping generalisations about the division. They all acknowledged that there are men who possess many, even all, of these characteristics. Our Wonder Women quoted male and female role models and mentors who had exhibited these very characteristics.
What was emerging was a belief that it will be the collective voices of women and men, with a corresponding mix of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits that will help us effect change, changes that will be good for brands and business.
The Authority Gap Conclusions
Ann Sieghart argues that if it became the default that all organisations were run jointly by a woman with a male deputy, or by a man with a female deputy, we would not only have better, more rounded and imaginative leadership, we would also achieve gender equality in the process. If we only made mixed gender leadership the norm, the authority gap would shrink in one generation.
Ann Sieghart finished the book with a wonderfully powerful ‘flying on two wings’ quote from the former Irish President Mary McAleese:
“If men don’t take women more seriously, we end up flying on one wing. If you’ve ever seen a bird that tries to fly on one wing, it can’t get elevation, it can’t get direction, it flaps about rather sadly – and that’s our world – flapping about rather sadly because of the refusal to use the elevation, the direction and the confidence from flying on two wings. And sadly, this male wing seem to think it has to spend a lot of effort keeping the other wing down. That’s wasted effort and wasted lives.”
When women flourish and their talent and creativity flourish, then the world flourishes – and men will flourish – and we all will flourish.