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Why Good Girls could be losing out in the workplace now – with or without quotas…

Management Corner – Part 1

Annette Reissfelder, a Professional Accredited Coach active in Prague and Hamburg, shares her musings on management, innovation and beliefs in this series first published in BUSINESSWOMAN this summer.

This article first appeared in “BusinessWoman” in June 2013.

“Equality is a losing proposition”—so said Elisabet Rodriguez Dennehy in a recent talk she gave on women managers’ issues at the Katz School of Business in Prague.  Her twist inspired me to look at issues of management from a different angle. Dennehy argues that because we are physiologically different - and indeed, the physical, hormonal and neuronal differences are well researched these days - men and women are biologically programmed to create complementary environments. Now that’s an interesting point! I can see what she is saying, although I don’t believe this is 100% gender specific: diligent, nice, humble, conflict-avoiding individuals play an important role in keeping the overall work environment the same – thus allowing others (and often indeed men) to get away with displaying boastful, self-promoting alpha-male behaviours. Because of the friendly, complementary micro-environments at the water cooler, the atmosphere doesn’t turn completely toxic, and as a result the team can still be moderately efficient.

But I wonder: isn’t it time for women to switch from creating a few islands of relief to actively shaping a DIFFERENT corporate culture? We still see many women showing the old behaviours (and speech patterns!) of learned powerlessness. Isn’t it time to stop staring at the glass ceiling? What would change if women stopped asking themselves: ‘How can women be on par with men?’ and replaced it by, ‘What new standards do we need to give ourselves, in order to enable our businesses to be prepared for what lies ahead?’ and ‘How can each of us nurture the right combination of male and female traits to allow us as individuals to thrive?’

Upgrade Yourself

Both men and women show feminine, and masculine, behaviours. In fact, we all have met successful women whose style showed none of the enlightened aspects of feminine wisdom and leadership, but who seemed more like needy pretty girls with perhaps a powerful internal sponsor.  Men and women alike, regardless of where they fall on the spectrum of male and female traits, will need to make some important internal adjustments in order to respond to the technological changes affecting the European workplace now.  Medium-value and routine work is already either taken over by new technology, or devalued because it takes less and less skill, and can therefore be done by people with minimal education. Don’t be fooled that this only applies to blue-collar work or low-value and admin work like bookkeeping. It also affects bankers, notaries, lawyers and doctors, and managers in general – and it has only just started…

As a consequence, we can either accept to be “downgraded”, or choose to “upgrade ourselves”.

What will make this transition difficult for many women is that they still don’t look beyond the top notes they aspired to during their childhood, i.e. the four standard value-informed behaviours of diligence, collaboration, good conduct, and compliance. It might require a new generation of parents to finally take care of these shadows of the past. The problem is, since these are below our conscious level of awareness, I am wondering when this generation of “aware parents” will emerge.

There is nothing wrong with valuing the above-mentioned traits. In fact, they are fantastic attributes for a worker bee: they are very useful for establishing a reputation as a hard worker and expert. Their only downside is that they don’t work for people who – unlike worker bees – have ambitions to higher levels of management, or want to become successful long-term business owners (BTW this isn’t gender-specific. There are lots of men who show these characteristics, and face much the same issues as a consequence.). The very traits that help promote a career in the earliest stages, work against those who show them in subsequent phases of career development – unless they are complemented by a very different set of high-impact mindsets.

The next article of Annette’s series, “The New Management Ideal” covers why the rules are changing, and what leading thinkers on innovation suggest what traits to nurture in order to be prepared for the new paradigm.

Management Corner – Part 2 The New Management Ideal
Management Corner – Part 3 Beliefs Trump Facts: An Introduction
Management Corner – Part 4 Personal Myths: Beliefs That Might Be Holding You Back


About the author: Annette (www.an-edge-for-you.com) studied economics and holds a master degree in psychology. She started her coaching training in 1998 while she ran a management consultancy for manufacturing companies. Today her clients are business owners and senior managers who want to actively shape an important personal or professional change project. In her work, she combines the roles of consultant, strategic thinking partner and psychologist. She is multilingual and works in German, Czech and English.

 
 
 
 
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