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About Women

post # 434 — September 18, 2007 — a Careers, Managing post

I’m still at the Australian Institute of Management Convention. A number of speakers have made a central point: that women are INHERENTLY better leaders than men, or at least are better at the type of leadership that the emerging society and economy requires: relationships, empathy, the long-term view. Again, and again, the point is being made here that numbers, logic, science are “masculine” approaches and are inadequate or insufficient for progress.

Most insistent on the issue has been Tom Peters. he basically said “You can disagree with me on many issues but not this one: I’m right and you’re wrong.” (To see Tom’s arguments, go to his website www.tompeters.com and download his slides. He’s very generous in making them freely available.)

Over dinner, I heard practicing businesspeople (and those in local governement) increasingly willing to comment on the ability and desirability of hiring females as opposed to males. According to what I was told, young males are less loyal and committed, harder to handle and are more demanding as employees.

Is it me, or are people increasingly willing to make generalizations about male / female differences? Isn’t this dangerous territory? Or is it just reflecting statistical realities? Do you feel comfortable listening to (or participating in) discussions about why women are better/ different than men?

I don’t. I’ll listen and try to learn, but it feels like the opportunties for bias and gross exaggeration are boundless.


Sameer Panchangam said:

I agree that women probably come with qualities of relationships, empathy, and the long-term view. But the no. of women students with the top b-schools will never be greater than the no. of men.

This fundamentally brings the difficulty of hiring women leaders even if they are better compared to men; as there’ll always be shortage of them.

But I am really seeing that change of hiring women leaders – slowly happening in a lot of places.

posted on September 18, 2007

Heidi Ehlers said:

No I don’t feel comfortable listening to ‘better than’ conversations. The conversation (and the statistics) would be just as effective if it was presented as “Women make good leaders for the following reasons:…” and not including the better than part.

I feel just as uncomfortable watching commercials where the male is portrayed as a dimwitted fool. If a female was portrayed in such a manner the commercial would be pulled before sundown.

If it’s now politically incorrect to make generalizations relative to gender and race and religion and status and sexual preference, but are doing it at the expense of another part of society usually the white male, have we really done anything to move the ball forward?

posted on September 18, 2007

Stephen Ruben said:

When we look objectively at the fundamental characterisatics and roles of women, I am surprised that the conclusion that women make better leaders than men is not blatantly obvious. The numbers of women leaders in Corporate America versus their male counterparts is merely a product of anthroppology and sociology.

Almost every male sports team has a male coach. How many are Woodens or Coach Ks? How many leaders lead?

Iam surprised at David Maister’s bewilderment at this premise.

posted on September 18, 2007

Andrew Long said:

It amuses me to see Tom Peters, in supporting his view that women work better in the modern workplace, being so male in his approach (I’m right on this one, he says). He seems to be utterly unaware of the contradiction.

posted on September 18, 2007

Lois van Waardenberg said:

It’s dangerous territory.

It’s the flavour of the moment, and there will be a kickback.

It is good to acknoweldge positive “statistical” differences of BOTH genders; and then important to note that these cannot be applied to individuals. At least not without ‘checking’ their applicability to said individual, which seems very difficult to do without prejudice, at least for blokes ;-)

posted on September 18, 2007

Carl Singer said:

Blanket statements (this one included) are usually wrong.

Imagine if someone had said that men are INHERENTLY better managers than women — and the “political” fallout of such a statement.

Having worked for and with both male & female managers — I believe that neither gender is inherently superior. Even if one might conjecture such — then the individual variance would be so large as to negate the practical use of this measure.

Bad analogy time: Men are inherently taller than women. But there are some women who are taller than some men.

I have difficulty in discussing this because it leads nowhere in hiring the best manager for the job at hand, etc.

My experience is that SOME seasoned managers (as in older) are better than SOME new managers. They have honed skills that make them good managers — then again, others have perfected bad habits that make them a must to avoid.

Then again, for a year I had an outstanding female manager who (very privately) had a “significant other” of the same gender. I don’t think I would generalize….

posted on September 18, 2007

Hugh Watkins said:

I think that women have many fine qualities, such as the ones you quote: “relationships, empathy, the long-term view”. but these qualities can also be found in a good follower, as opposed to a leader.

What about ambition and drive? What about the ability to get others to follow? Are these needed in a leader or are they out of date qualities?

Tom Peters’ comment just tells me that he han’t really got a handle on what a leader is. What a shame.

posted on September 18, 2007

Stephen Ruben said:

Is it possiblw for us to be less concerned about political fallout than we are about the truth. Disagree with the premise if you wish, but criticism for its political incorrectness, does it get us closer to any answers.

Do followers really have ‘a long term view’? i guess it depends how one defines it!

posted on September 18, 2007

Susan Cartier Liebel said:

It’s fair to say there are differences; each coming ‘generally’ with certain qualities, strengths. But to me it makes the argument in any good business there should be a blending of these inherent skill sets to create a greater company, product, service.

As to the leadership comments…we are only describing one form of leadership. Isn’t it fair to say there are many ways to lead but we have embraced only one model? The world has experienced many fine leaders both male and female (just not the female style leadership to the degree it could be in this country.)

Furthermore, without getting too far afield, the world (which includes all life forms) is significantly represented by a matriarchal construct.

posted on September 18, 2007

Brian Hagerty said:

Yes, I do think discussions of innate male-female differences are becoming more common and more socially acceptable. This is due in part to the pernicious influence of pseudo-neuroscience. The folks at Language Log are perpetually debunking claims about male-female difference in general, and with respect to language in particular. Go to Language Log and search for “Brizendine” for a taste.

posted on September 18, 2007

Michael Hurd said:

I get irked by these discussions too especially when such sweeping generalized conclusions are made. I applaud women’s success and also our willingness to discuss gender differences and to work with them, but I hate how it’s gotten to the point where we lift others up by pushing others down; specifically white males.

One wonders what a poor doofus male can do to succeed since the way things are presented he was doomed from not having the good sense to have been born female. It makes one sympathise with the disadvantaged groups of yesteryear.

But thankfully, Tom Peters made a promise to “Never, ever again will I evaluate anyone using a standardized instrument devised by a ‘professional’ in inhuman Resources.” (a field dominated by females)

I also wonder how Tom Peters women fare on the measurement of “ready, fire, aim”, “serious play”, and “Try it, Try it, Fail, Fail, Try it” strategies. It’s been my understanding that women are a bit more risk averse.

Oh well, call me old fashioned but I’m of the opinion a proper leadership strategy would be similar to a traditional family with mother and father roles and leaders would do well to have a blend of female traits towards relationships with the male traits of trying to do something risky for a reward.

posted on September 18, 2007

Johanna Rothman said:

Gender does not make a good or bad manager. Type does not make a good or bad manager. People who want to build trust and relationships with their staff, determine the strategy and staff the most strategic work–those are good managers.

A CxO once told me he looked for women to hire as managers. One week later, I had a new (male) boss who fired me because I was pregnant.

posted on September 18, 2007

Coert Visser said:

Hi David, I am with you on this issue. I don’t feel comfortable when people assert things like this. And I don’t buy it. It seems simplistic and dangerous. I agree with what some people have said. Styles between men and women may differ on average but that does necessarily mean that one is (in absolute terms) better than the other. With respect to leadership I am convinced that there are very different ways in which leaders may be effective.

posted on September 18, 2007

Erick Hendricks said:

Interesting. It is a big turn-off to attend a function that looks to generalize in so many different directions. Women are a vital component to, not only business, but everyday life. However, I don’t see the point in generalizing. The focus should not be on who the performer is–the focus should be on what the performer does. People who choose leaders will be more effective in descision making. Not only is this ignorance, but it will lead to a dangerous blow somewhere down the road.

Tom should know better than that!

posted on September 18, 2007

Dawna Jones said:

Sweeping generalizations overlook a deeper dynamic. What goes on energetically is more of a dynamic between the masculine and the feminine essence inherent to both genders. The masculine is action oriented and the feminine is receptivity. You need both to function. Conversations like the one you are experiencing David, in my brain at least, reveal the top surface level assessment that misses the mark. It is not either or. It is both. Women out of balance can be phenomenally brutal. So can men. If there is awareness of the internal balance between the masculine and feminine either gender can lead effectively. I think that it is the one’s personal relationship with power: both internally and externally that has torked perspectives on gender and diverted attention to who does what better rather than on tapping into more of who you are.

posted on September 18, 2007

vanessa feom SLC said:

Statistics are what they are. If there is a difference, then it will show in the numbers. That said, the meaning attached to the difference is entirely cultural (anthropological, sociological as mentioned above).

When approaching a documented difference, it is our natural tendency to determine which side is “better.” This perspective reduces our ability to accept both ways a valuable in their own right. This idea is captured to a degree in comments about blending styles or adopting traits a-la-carte.

Ignoring general trends because they may not pertain to any given individual is a little like throwing the baby out with the bath water. Valuable information can be revealed by looking both at groups and at individuals in relation to groups. Both are needed to fully understand what may be going on.

posted on September 18, 2007

Duncan said:

People are people

Women and men are not the same.

One woman is not the same as the next (man or woman) and vice versa.

Sweeping generalisations (about anything) are dangerous / ridiculous.

I thought Tom was only saying that he won’t compromise on the importance of the issue, that women are important.

posted on September 18, 2007

Kerry C. Stackpole said:

Since organizationally speaking no one fully understands how changes in the workplace, workforce, and the digital world are impacting people and their leaders, it’s way too easy and simplistic to say women are better leaders than men. Different, I will grant you. In leadership, as in life, however, nothing works all of the time, in all circumstances, with all people. Viva la difference. Easy on the them vs. us better or not.

posted on September 18, 2007

David Brewster said:

I was at the same conference David attended and one of Tom’s points that I think has been overlooked here is this: women make up roughly half of the population, significantly more than half of the buying power domestically and at least half of the buying power commercially. In other words, women make up a good deal of the market that most companies are trying to sell to. So it makes sense that women should play a greater role in the decision making of those companies – at all levels right up to and including the board.

It wasn’t all about women being ‘better’ than men. It was more about women being overlooked for too long. Perhaps Tom overstated the point (I agree that his approach was paradoxically masculine) but I do think it needs to be made strongly in order for us blokes to hear it.

David Brewster

posted on September 19, 2007

Hugh Watkins said:


I suppose the main turn off in what Tom Peters said is that it doesn’t help any of us – men or women – get any better at leading (or is that really just managing?).

I was also interested to see that businesspeople consider young men “harder to handle” than young women. Is that a sign that young men are not good leaders? Or does it mean that they are not good followers?


posted on September 19, 2007

Illana Halliday said:

I did not hear anyone at the conference agreeing with Tom Peters, despite the fact he thought he was right. He sure created a lot of very interesting debate and strong feelings about his presentation style and material.

My best managers and leaders have all been men, with one exception. That is more likely to reflect the industry sectors and the demographics of senior managers. I was very surprised & alarmed to hear about the differences appearing in the educational standards. As a manager and leader my job is to get the best from all the people who work with me, ideally with a diverse workforce, and regardless of gender. The educational standard rift between boys and girls could make it very hard (if it exists) to keep that diversity, and could make it harder to get young males. It would not make them less attractive as employees, but may make us less attractive as employers.

posted on September 19, 2007

Liz Zitzow said:

White people are better managers than black people. Older white males make the best managers, because of their gravitas and social standing. Does that make you feel comfortable? It sure makes my skin crawl, and promoting the reverse or any subsection thereof likewise makes my skin crawl.

The statistics for any group of people (women, Caucasians, Americans, six-foot tall, etc.) can be measured on a bell curve, and invariably there is some correlation to another statistic, such as wages, % of CEOs, prominence, or social status.

Making generalizations from such statistics fails to separate and elevate individual achievement from the statistical norm. For example, women tend to have less upper body strength then men. But the champion female arm wrestler will best 99.99% of men. Statistics predict that if she meets you, the reader of this article, she will undoubtedly win!

Every women, every person born to lower social status, every African American, every illegal immigrant, even the mentally weak, each person has the potential to dedicate themselves 100% to being the best. It’s up to all of us to recognize such achievements and focus on merit rather than happenstantial socioeconomic backgrounds when choosing people for jobs.

posted on September 19, 2007

Just Another Pretty Face said:

Saying women are better managers is just crazy talk. Of course generalizations like that make people uncomfortable.

Fortunately, we’re all still comfortable with fact that good looking people make better employees. That’s completely different.

posted on September 21, 2007

Vrontis said:

I think this debate is tangential to the main problem. The problem is that it is impossible to define the universal attributes of a “great” manager.

Let’s do a little thought experiment to illustrate. Picture yourself as the manager of an oil drilling rig out in the wilderness. What attributes do you need to achieve success? (Hint: you have to define “success” first.) Now think of yourself instead as the sales manager for a fish canning company. What attributes do you need to succeed? If you compare those two lists, I bet you would find many more differences than similarities.

Let’s take that one step further. If you take the common attributes from these two lists and imagine that you are the world’s best as to those attributes alone, without more, do you think you would be the world’s best oil drilling rig manager or canned fish sales manager? (I don’t think I would be.)

Time and the vagaries of the business cycle also play an important role. For instance, do you think that the attributes which made for a great bank CEO during the “Roaring 20s” would hold him/her in good stead during the “Great Depression”? (I don’t think so.)

If we repeat these thought experiments again and again, using different industries or sectors, or looking at different times, I think it becomes obvious that there is no universal set of “best” attributes for a manager. The attributes will vary depending on the circumstances. It really is horses for courses.

As to Tom Peter’s assertion – I’ll believe him when I see him immolating one of his undergarments (which I hope he is not wearing at the time).

posted on September 23, 2007

Stig said:

I want to agree with you that this is an eternal dispute. Everybody will always have his/her own arguments in favor of male/female.

posted on September 27, 2007

Meredith Hernandezon said:

As a women I have to agree with you. We are all individuals so that clasification of better an worse by gender is out of date. There are differences between men and women but they are purely anatomical.

posted on December 19, 2007