What unique value do women, bring to the workplace?
For centuries the accepted answer was “None.”
Today when we answer the question, most of us can still only give a vague answer. We hear that companies with more women perform better but we can’t specifically state how or why. Without a clear answer, women don’t know how to leverage themselves at work and companies don’t have an incentive to proclaim “We need to hire and promote more women!”
To answer the question, we have to challenge old ideas that are so entrenched in our thinking that we never question if they are true. Let’s begin with the Doctrine of Two Spheres, which influences how all of us live even though most of us probably never heard of it.
Men inhabit the public sphere of work, politics, law, business, commerce, academia and finance.
Women inhabit the private sphere of domesticity, child rearing and religious and charitable work.
It goes on to say that men and women naturally possess the traits necessary for their sphere and that since the spheres are distinct and separate, male and female traits are also distinct and separate – they have have no overlapping or shared traits. This is what gives us the stereotypes.
It also implies that when women leave the private sphere and go into the public sphere, they must leave all their female characteristics behind and adopt male characteristics. A woman who is career minded may have the body of a woman but she must think and act like a man.
It is this concept that keeps women out of many industries and many jobs, especially high paying jobs. It is probably the most fundamental reason why women aren’t advancing in the workplace and why we don’t recognize women as bringing unique value to the workplace.
Today we recognize that men and women have several overlapping traits. We know women can be successful and still be feminine. I am a perfect example of that – I was successful in hard-core male roles in male-dominated industries but still every bit a woman.
So let’s throw the Doctrine of Two Spheres in the trash can where it belongs and start over.
A New Perspective
When I began my career in the early 80’s, I was told that men excel in business so I had high expectations of my workplace. However, once there it took me only a few days to say, “What the Hell? I thought you guys knew what you were doing!”
All around me I saw was chaos, crisis management, stress and lots of inefficiency. Any concerns I had about measuring up to my male colleagues quickly vanished.
I was determined to understand what was fundamentally wrong with the male-dominated workplace and fix it.
I realized that the way my male colleagues worked wasn’t as much wrong as it was incomplete. I felt like there were a lot of “things missing” in what they did. At the time I couldn’t quite articulate what was “missing” so I began using the term “Swiss cheese” to describe how the male-dominated workplace “functioned” and “completed” tasks.
I continued to watch and listen to what my colleagues were doing. I looked for the Swiss cheese holes. Then I filled in the holes. To me, filling in the holes felt completely natural but also amazingly obvious.
It also made our performance soar. It made me wonder why millions and millions of men never figured out how to do what I was doing.
I found the answer to that question in an ancient Chinese proverb:
Women hold up half the sky
We could interpret this proverb as supporting the Doctrine of Two Spheres but it really represents the Yin and Yang concept we are all familiar with.
Unlike the Doctrine of Two Spheres which divides male and female into two static and separate spheres, Yin and Yang are connected opposites.
They are dynamic, continually interacting and influencing each other. Neither is superior or inferior, each controls the other and both need the other to create a harmonious whole.
Yin and Yang are equal halves of the whole.
As a woman, I created this dynamic in all of my male-dominated workplace. By providing the missing other half I made performance soar. The reason I always out-performed all of my male colleagues was because my projects and operations were the only ones working in wholeness.
This concept also tells us that no matter how big, bold, confident, loud, brash, aggressive, rational and analytical men are, they can never lift up the entire sky and work in wholeness. They need women. They need our half of the sky. .
But this begs the question – What should we be lifting up?
The characteristics traditionally associated with woman aren’t suitable for climbing the corporate ladder or creating great achievements.
To answer my question I began taking notes and making lists of how my male colleagues worked and what I did in response. There was amazing consistency across all of my workplaces and across the different industries I was exposed to.
Over a many years and many workplaces, I compiled, tested and refined the following list. I presume that some of these traits are natural but others are taught or at least exaggerated by our culture. Whether natural or taught, this list represents the male traits I consistently encountered in all of my male-dominated workplaces and the female traits I and my female colleagues used.
A workplace that has an excess of female traits functions in the Pink Zone. I typically found these workplaces in the small departments where women work in traditional female jobs.
Likewise, a workplace that has an excess of male traits operates in the Blue Zone. Most workplaces operate in the Blue Zone. This is true even if there is a predominantly female workforce or female leadership because society teaches women to buy into the Doctrine of Two Spheres and adopt Blue Zone behaviors.
To create wholeness and high performance in our workplaces we need to change our perceptions and apply the Yin-Yang dynamic. By doing this we create the Purple Zone.
The Purple Zone
When women enter a male-dominated workplace and exercise our natural female traits, we blend our Pink traits into the workplace’s Blue traits and transform the workplace. We create the Purple Zone.
Pink + Blue = Purple
This is the unique value women bring to the workplace.
The Purple Zone encompasses the full spectrum of Purple as our workplace changes shades in response to the issues it is addressing. The Purple Zone can be Indigo if more male traits are called for and Lavender if more female traits are called for.
To achieve the Purple Zone women and men must continually interact across all roles and management levels in all industries. Workplaces can’t achieve wholeness when men are in senior management, sales and operations while women are in administration, HR and accounting. Men and women are too far apart and separated from each other to continuously influence each other.
People should also see themselves in shades of Purple. If we look at Yin–Yang symbol we notice the Yin and Yang each have part of the other within them, allowing them to use the traits associated with the other.
This means men and women can achieve wholeness within themselves.
Most of us haven’t experienced working in wholeness because our culture and workplaces favor Yang or male energy so much. It is hard for us to even conceptualize what wholeness means. But, we have to.
The 21st century demands that we work in wholeness. The Blue Zone traits we favor and rely on so much are simply inadequate to deal with and solve the complex problems and issues we will face. Looking back over the problems we’ve faced so far this century reveals the truth of that statement.
The 21st century demands that women finally lift up our half of the sky and lead men to the Purple Zone. Men can’t do it for us. It is entirely up to women to lift up our half of the sky and exercise our inherent equality.
When women embrace and assert our female characteristics we will lead our workplaces to their greatest performance and achievements. We create a new dynamic workplace that works in balance, equality and wholeness. We create the workplace we always wanted.
To learn more about the unique value of women in the workplace, read my book The Woman In The Room
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