Betty-Ann's Both Sides Blog

Use Gender Physics to Advance Your Career

When I wrote my book, ‘Gender Physics, Unlock the Energy You Never Knew You Had to Get the Results You Want’ I imagined I was talking to a disillusioned 30 something. I know how hard it is to have an idealized version of the world and how you will use your special gifts and talents to contribute to it, only to discover that you do not feel free to bring your whole self to work. That, of course, limits your possibilities and you often end up stifling yourself to fit in, which isn’t productive for you or your company. Part of the problem is stereotypes, which say that men should be a certain kind of leader (strong, tough, stoic risk-taker) and women should be a different kind of leader (supportive, collaborative, empathetic relationship builder). In our multi-faceted world, we need to use all the options and actions available to us and that comes from allowing the Masculine and Feminine Energies present in each of us to emerge and work together. I was delighted when the Globe and Mail columnist Harvey Schachter, who provides career advice saw the wisdom in my theory and quoted from it. His column (as found below) ran November 16, 2018,

Leaders Need Not Heed Gender Stereotypes

The two classic styles of leadership can be called hard or soft. Hard tends to be assertive-dominant, analytical, and, when needed, remorseless. Soft tends to be more co-operative and collaborative, empathetic and laid back, letting others take the lead. I have had fun writing about some newfangled notions of leadership styles, each worth considering in various situations, but in essence, for many people, their instincts and actions boil down to hard or soft. Those are long-standing approaches, extending beyond our own time as managers. But these days, they are commonly associated with men and women – men more likely to display the hard side and women the soft side. To say that is to be both trite and offensive at the same time – trite because much has been written already about it and offensive because many people don’t like to be pigeonholed by gender (and many men, in particular, have their back up against gender analysis of work).

Betty-Ann Heggie, a Toronto-based consultant and former senior vice-president of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan (now Nutrien Ltd.), offers helpful perspective by asking us to think of masculine and feminine “energies” coming together in what she calls “gender physics.” We are pulled by our gender to our namesake energy, but gender is not destiny. She says that about 70 percent of men and women will have a natural energy consistent with their biological gender while 30 percent don’t. Even that can be influenced by discipline. In her workshops, she finds a higher propensity for masculine energy within women employed in engineering and law, where masculine energies are valued. Younger men, particularly those who have taken paternity leave, are more apt to have a higher feminine energy level.

Neither energy beats the other in all situations. Each can backfire on us – if we define our own preferred energy, we can easily recall situations where it was very helpful and others where it wasn’t. She says we want to be humans, not genders, and should be seeking to be whole – using masculine and feminine energies, together. “Balanced leaders are the best leaders,” she writes in her book Gender Physics. You undoubtedly know how this plays out for you and your colleagues. In her book, she lists complementary energies. For example, feminine energy tends to be “we” and masculine “me” – part of the group versus apart. Feminine energy is totally engaged and contributing, but is content to follow the leaders; masculine energy wants to direct the action. How/what is another distinction: Feminine energy relishes the process and considers all its aspects while masculine energy lets details fall away as it focuses on the goal. Feminine energy is motivated by emotion and ideals, or the heart, while masculine energy seeks logical and reasoned examination, the head.

In each case – and others she delineates – we need both energies, as individuals and as organizations. But it can be hard to break out of our gender’s pull. “Fear of rejection motivates men and women to express the attributes of their gender,” she says. Much has been written about how hard it is for women to retain elements of their gender pull, particularly in masculine energy organizations, and how, paradoxically, when they take on masculine norms such as being assertive they can be rejected. Less attention has been paid to how men get penalized for straying from masculine norms. “Research demonstrates that men too face backlash when they don’t adhere to masculine gender stereotypes – when they show vulnerability, act nicer, display empathy, express sadness, exhibit modesty, and proclaim to be feminists,” David Mayer, a professor of management and organizations at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, wrote recently in Harvard Business Review.

So the 30 percent of men with feminine energies and those with masculine energies who try to find more balance could be on shaky ground. For example, when male (but not female) leaders ask for help they are viewed as less competent, capable and confident. Nice guys are evaluated as less competent and less hireable for managerial roles. Women are more likely to get credit for empathy at work than men. Gender is powerful. We need to be aware of its pull on us and the threat of stereotypes. Thinking of it as energies – part of gender physics – may help us find better balance.