He & She in Corporate


Masculine and feminine approaches to business are best viewed as a continuum, with extremes at either end and a great deal of overlap in the middle. To explore this idea, Turner presents two characters, Max and Fran. Max operates in the middle of the male continuum, while Fran is in the middle of the female continuum. Their brain structures, hormones, and other physiological differences make Max and Fran different from one another. The degree to which masculine or feminine behavior was reinforced during their childhoods is also a factor.

PRISM 1Certain differences between masculine and feminine approaches are deeply ingrained. Three drivers in particular are relevant to understanding Max’s and Fran’s approaches to life and work:

1. How they think: With a balance of linear (male) and multitasking or “web” (female) thinking, work projects are more likely to be successful, stay on track, and incorporate the thinking of multiple individuals.

2. What relationships mean: A female approach to relationships involves establishing a rapport by sharing feelings. A male approach involves exchanging information.

3. How they express themselves: Toward the masculine end of the continuum, communication is more aggressive and asserting of competitive superiority. The feminine approach involves more connections on a level-playing field and bonding with a group for protection.


Understanding the foundation of how people identify themselves in the world allows them to understand the differences between masculine and feminine approaches to work and the advantages/disadvantages to each in various settings. The masculine self-image veers toward competition and obtaining placement in a company hierarchy. A hierarchical structure is advantageous in situations where rapid decisions are crucial, and where following a particular approach is necessary to produce a consistent product. However, hierarchical structures also have the potential disadvantage of stifling creativity. The feminine view of self tends more toward creating and maintaining relationships in a network where everyone is on equal footing. These differing views affect how both Max and Fran structure their workplaces. A network structure is beneficial when attempting to create a common direction or company vision that employees at all levels must embrace. The downside is that the decision-making process may be slowed or unclear.

Leveraging a balance of ideas in any environment requires understanding the differences between people, setting aside preconceived judgments, and recognizing the advantages and disadvantages inherent in various approaches to work and life. A Sage can then utilize different approaches in different situations, thereby maximizing employee engagement and productivity.


While Max and Fran both work efficiently and achieve goals, their focus in the process differs. Masculine, linear thinking simply focuses on the goal, while the feminine network focuses on the goal and on the relationships necessary to accomplishing the steps leading to the goal.

Teams working on a project can take one of four approaches:

1. Masculine: The leader’s ideas are most likely to be followed, and other members’ ideas are given less precedence.

2. Feminine: Ideas are solicited from many team members, and the leader synthesizes these into the approach that will be followed.

3. Extreme Masculine: The leader’s ideas are pursued to the exclusion of input from anyone else.

4. Extreme Feminine: The leader is so focused on hearing from everyone that there is no decision-making capacity in the project.

A goal-focused approach can be more efficient, but also can result in a lack of recognition for consequences of a decision. A flat-network approachallows more ideas and input, but can potentially lose focus and slow the decision-making process.

Business leaders desiring to effectively lead employees who have varied work approaches benefit from considering several factors:

*Making a conscious decision whether a situation calls for a goal-oriented approach, a process-oriented approach, or a mix of both.

*When speed is paramount, communicating the need for a masculine approach.

*As a project leader, retaining the willingness to consider ideas that may seem to be tangential.

*Communicating understanding of differing approaches openly, and explaining the advantages of alternative approaches.


In a masculine-driven hierarchy, instruction travels from top to bottom. This is referred to as a command structure. In a feminine network approach, communication travels across the organization, making maintaining relationships more important than an individual’s status within the company. This is a structure in which instruction is given via persuasion rather than by command.

The command structure results in clearer, faster communication; however, it can quell input from those who are lower in the hierarchy. The femininepersuasive approach, while more inclusive and respectful, can be a slower, less clear process.

Understanding the continuum of influence allows people to let go of judgment and objectively see the advantages and disadvantages of masculine and feminine approaches in the workplace. Releasing judgment allows understanding and cooperation, regardless of approach.


Max’s approach to speech is direct, making use of:

*Declarative statements.

*Being objective and to the point.

*Focusing on facts more than feelings.

*Stating objections directly. This approach is particularly effective in hierarchical structures where status is important.

Fran’s network-based approach, in which relationships trump status, is oriented to maintaining equality, and therefore avoids speech that can be characterized as talking “up” or “down” to someone. Maintaining a flatness, or equality-based network, creates a tendency toward four speech structures:

1. Disclaimers: “This may be stupid, but …” or “You may have already thought of this …”

2. Hedges: Using softer words such as “try,” “hope,” “maybe,” or “believe.”

3. Tag questions: Turning a statement into a question by adding on phrases such as “Right?” “Don’t you think?” and “Do you know what I mean?”

4. Apologizing: The use of “I’m sorry,” not in a sense of accepting blame, but in the sense of “I feel for you.”


Max and Fran differ in the amount of time they talk during meetings, as well as the methods they use to interrupt others. The masculine, status-based approach leads to Max taking up more time speaking and emphasizing his ideas. Fran’s tendency to wait her turn and to be cognizant of how many other people need to speak leads to her taking less time to express her ideas.

Interrupting, on the masculine end of the continuum, tends to be about competition, via disagreement or a change in direction. Interrupting on the feminine end is more likely to be about offering support or agreement.

In a workplace that operates under a masculine approach, women can be caught in a double bind. This means that their feminine, inclusive approach to communications may result in them being overlooked for leadership positions. However, moving too far over to the masculine side of the continuum can result in a woman being misunderstood and labeled as overbearing or condescending. Women can often mitigate this by finding a middle ground along the communication continuum.


Fran is more aware of nonverbal communication than Max. The pitfall to nonverbal communication is recognizing that this awareness varies from person to person. Therefore, Fran cannot assume that someone’s failure to recognize her nonverbal cues equates to a lack of caring on that person’s part. Recognizing these different levels of awareness and communicating needs via spoken communication reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings.

Max’s tendency to speak declaratively is a natural consequence of pursuing increased status within a hierarchy. Fran’s use of disclaimers and more persuasive tendencies is meant to maintain the equality of a network. Also, Fran’s use of hedges, tag questions, and apologies result in a feeling of inclusiveness; however, they may also result in Fran being perceived as less self-confident. The declarative masculine approach sounds more confident and decisive, but may also seem arrogant and erode relationships with fellow employees.

Awareness of speech patterns allows for understanding and a release of judgment. Once this occurs, people are able to utilize the type of communication that will be most effective in a particular circumstance.


On the masculine end of the continuum, relationships revolve around roles and people’s positions in the hierarchy. On the feminine end, relationships are about personal connection. This can lead to misunderstandings as men might view women as being less productive due to the time they spend building relationships. However, a woman who is more isolative may be viewed as cold or unfeeling by fellow female employees.

In a feminine-based approach where relationships are paramount, there may be a friendlier feel to the workplace. However, this can lead to difficulties when managers are required to discipline or fire employees. A masculine approach to relationships, while more impersonal, fosters a less emotional approach to workplace interactions, especially in situations where there is conflict.

Awareness of different approaches to relationships can broaden a leader’s ability to create teams of people with varied perspectives, and to utilize those perspectives to the advantage of the team as a whole. Managers also must be aware of their own relationship styles, and be willing to modify them in order to accommodate other people’s approaches.


How people view relationships governs their methods for handling conflict. Fran, in a network where relationships are paramount, is more likely to avoid conflict. In Max’s hierarchy where status is the most important factor, conflict can be used as a means of enhancing status and climbing the corporate ladder. Max is more likely to utilize a direct approach to conflict, while Fran tends to utilize indirect conflict and tactics such as nonverbal cues and communicating via a third party. Indirect conflict can avoid unnecessary fights in the workplace. However, when there is a legitimate issue, a direct approach to conflict is more professional and appropriate.

Effective conflict management involves understanding both indirect and direct approaches. Releasing judgment regarding a person’s method of handling conflict also opens doors for healthy conflict management. Creating a workplace in which conflict is handled effectively is based on three principles:

  1. Recognizing which battles are worth fighting.
  2. Handling conflict professionally and directly.
  3. Remaining open to the opposing side’s viewpoint.


In Max’s approach, humor is used as a method of enhancing status, particularly via poking fun at another’s problems. The masculine end of humor “stirs things up.” Putting someone else down is not seen as personal, but rather as a means to “score a point.” On the feminine end of the continuum, where language may be taken more personally, humor is used to connect and to “smooth things out.” Women are more likely to disparage themselves in humor rather than putting someone else down.

Since humor is important to employees’ enjoyment of work, it is important for leaders to be aware of different forms of humor and their effects on individuals. Making employees aware of how their humor might adversely affect someone else, or be misread, can be accomplished tactfully, creating an increased comfort level for everyone.


Flat, relationship-based structures value collaboration, particularly in the interest of fostering relationships. Hierarchies, in contrast, encourage competition. In a hierarchy, power is determined by status, which creates a vertical structure. In a network, the power is leveled out and shared among members. When knowledge is equated to power, then Max is more likely to withhold and Fran is more likely to share.

On the masculine end of the continuum, ethics are determined by individual rights and status. At the feminine end, ethics are determined by a balance of multiple factors, such as work, family, and hobbies.


By recognizing the value of different approaches in the workplace, leaders learn to adapt their approaches to specific situations while remaining authentic to themselves. Learning to speak the language of the entire continuum of behavior enhances a leader’s ability to engage and retain employees.


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