The New Corporate Structure: A Feminine Leadership Approach in the Corporate World
When I see two guys get physically violent over a small issue, I just shake my head and try to make sense of it. When I read male creeds on office walls that say, “If it’s in your way step on it,” I simply cannot identify. One thing that is perfectly clear to me though, is that the state of this dog-eat-dog world at the hands of men makes perfect sense.
I recently contemplated the idea of whether I wanted to start a business of my own or join a company led by men (albeit good men). In the end, I discovered my reason for not wanting to be in such a company is because I do not hold to the same standards of leadership to which most men ascribe.
The typical masculine leadership ideology includes getting ahead at any cost, the belief that the top position in a company is the most desirable position and the idea that people are an expendable commodity in a company. I just can’t seem to reconcile my conscience with the notion that making another dollar is more important than the well being of people, which includes the family since many corporate executives willingly sacrifice their families to accomplish their career goals. Needless to say, I decided it would be better to start my own business than to be a part of that world.
A Web of Inclusion
Soon after making this decision I read a New York Times column entitled “What Women Want,” by John Tierney. The article cited a recent experiment conducted to study the way women respond to competitive situations in comparison to men. In the experiment both men and women were given math problems to solve and paid a small fee for correct answers. Both men and women faired about the same. However, when offered the option of participating in a more competitive tournament, most women declined to participate – including the ones who did quite well with the math problems; and most men opted to participate – even those who did not do so well in the first part of the experiment (par 2-3).
According to the column, one of the conclusions of the experiment was that women shied away from competition, even when they knew they would do well, and men were too eager for competition to the point of losing money (par 5).
The article reminded me of a study from one of my college classes, so I decided to do some more research on the topic. In Workplace/Women’s Place, Dana Dunn provides an anthological list of essays and articles on women in the workplace. One such article explores the significant difference between women and men in corporate leadership. In this article, Sally Helgesen interviewed four very successful women executives to learn more about the structure of each one’s leadership approach (181).
Helgesen found the structures of each woman, which resembled a web or a circle with points of connectivity progressing outward, to be very similar to the other women and quite different from the male hierarchical “ladder” approach. “I became aware that the women, when describing their roles in their organizations, usually referred to themselves as being in the middle of things. Not at the top, but in the center; not reaching down, but reaching out,” Helgesen noted (182).
Further, the structure practiced by these female executives is inclusive rather than self-seeking. Helgesen said, “Implicit in such structurings is the notion of group affiliation rather than individual achievement as having the highest value… This sense of having a larger concern, a concern for the group or whole – is of course implicit in the imagery of the web. The orb and the radial lines bind the whole together; every point of contact is also a point of connection. The principle…is inclusion. You can’t break a web into single lines or individual components without tearing the fabric, injuring the whole” (183).
Diplomacy Over Competition
This structure is not new to women; it is how we have always conducted our relationships and business practices. From very early on, women have been the foundational center of human development. There are even records that give weight to the fact that women were the first farmers and the first to create a written language. Archeological records of the city of Nimrud revealed that women served as judges and magistrates of the courts of law thousands of years before the patriarchal system established by Christianity pervaded society (Stone 3-4).
It is also interesting to note that around 5500 BC, when Goddess worship was the norm, “houses had been built with groups of rooms around a central courtyard, a style used by many architects today” (Stone 17). These structures were built during a time when women, because of their childbearing capabilities, ruled the community and the mother goddess was worshipped as the creator of the universe. It seems to me that the construct of these houses is very similar to the leadership structure defined by Helgesen’s women executives with a center point reaching out and connecting to several other points – a web of connectivity and inclusion.
Women have long been considered the nurturers of the family and society. In fact, I would go so far as to say the primary reason society has advanced thus far is in large part due to the leadership structure of women. I believe in our current state we are the gentler gender prone to diplomacy over competition or physical violence and research seems to back this theory. Though I believe at this point one cannot determine if this is truly the “natural” state of women since our current and former status is a direct result of forced repression or unnatural stimulations at the hands of men.
I have long pondered women’s tendency to defer to men. There are, of course, the social and religious expectations that have plague us with fears of being ostracized from family and friends and threats of the flames of hell and eternal damnation if we did not submit. Another explanation is shear brute force, or physical abuse, by the man to ensure our submission. Quite frankly, we have had no choice in the past but to defer to men.
Yet despite it all, we have also managed to maintain consistent growth in the development of our species. Certainly men cannot take credit for the formable years of childrearing and character establishment. They cannot even take credit for the simplest task of teaching their offspring to feed or groom themselves. Women alone can and should take the credit for sustainment and development of mankind. Consequently, women have mastered their leadership style from inside the home within the framework of the family unit and the human race has thrived because of the woman’s nurturing ability.
The Corporate Ladder is Obsolete
This is in sharp contrast to the wars constantly waged at the hands of competitive men. While the woman has given, sustained and nurtured life, man has killed, plundered and waged war. The woman builds a home and a social structure to promote healthy development – today this is called nesting. Meanwhile, rejecting what he was taught by his mother, man ravages the land and other people in his quest to be on top.
I do acknowledge the existence of men who are as socially and psychologically advanced as women in respect to their approach to leadership and relationships. However, for this article I want to reflect on a more historical perspective to bring to light the stark contrast of these two very different forms of leadership. The masculine leadership structure, which has been predominant for centuries, is not and has never been a structure conducive to the further development of the human race. In fact, masculine leadership can be attributed with most of the world’s destruction and chaos. Moreover, the feminine structure has been and will remain vital to the continued evolution of mankind.
Human development has reached a plateau and is in dire need of feminine leadership outside of the home – and women are answering the call. The recent move of women into the workplace is not inconsequential. In fact, it is a natural progression that must take place for the good mankind. Societal changes such as industrialization and commercialization have reorganized the social structure in such a way that feminine leadership is now just as essential in the workplace as it is in the home.
In his column, Tierney declares the masculine corporate ladder to be obsolete and brings attention to the influx of female college graduates in the workplace. He goes on to say the old structure simply doesn’t work and he cites a study showing “large companies yield better returns to stockholders if they have more women in senior management.” He also mentions a businessman who buys companies as saying the first thing he considers is the gender of the boss since companies run by women are more likely to survive due to their capability to “create a healthy culture within the company” (par 8-9).
The Best Leadership Structure for the Information Age
Female leadership is certainly not the only way to get a job done and in some cases it may not even be the best way to accomplish a task. However, it is abundantly clear that traditional male leadership is severely lacking on many fronts. In fact, corporate leadership structures are increasingly starting to resemble the feminine approach of a web or circle because it favors direct communication with several points of contact.
Helgesen insists this makes more sense in today’s technologically driven world. She says, “The image recalls that of the microchip – making quick connections, breaking information into bits, processing, rearranging the units: energy moving in pulses rather than being forced to run up and down in channels. Such a model is obviously more suited to the information age than the hierarchical structure, which found its most widespread application in the industrial era” (184).
When I see a company that still doesn’t have a woman in its senior management position, it sends up a red flag for me. However, if that company’s primary concern is the bottom line, it would explain the absence of a woman executive. Most women executives will not participate in the dog-eat-dog world of male competitiveness and therefore wouldn’t even darken the door of a business with such a shallow approach. If a company is thinking long-term and is strategically planning for the future, then a feminine approach to leadership will increase the chances of reaching of those goals.
Women understand that leadership is about more than money or being on the top. It is about the larger picture of creating an environment that promotes a sense of group accomplishment and connectivity. This method shuns individualism for the greater good of the whole, which in the corporate world means the company. The possibilities are endless for a business that has a solid team focused on the good of the company instead of individuals stepping on each other as they beat their way to the top.
As I look out from my balcony onto the nation’s capitol, I see a world built by women yet led by men. Women have created the most successful leadership structure ever – the family – with very little help from, and usually in spite of, the men. Those same women are now poised to share their extraordinary leadership abilities with the corporate world. The winds of change are blowing once again and the astute male executive will acknowledge the change of seasons in the next phase of human development and find a woman to help lead his company as soon as possible.
Tierney, John. “What Women Want” New York Times. 24 May, 2005. 10 June, 2005
Dunn, Dana. “Workplace/Women’s Place, An Anthology.” Women’s Ways of Leading. Sally Helgesen. Los Angeles: Roxbury, 1997. 181-185.
Stone, Merlin. When God Was a Woman. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1993.
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