Leading woman: A new generation rethinks workplace gender issues

Guess what: men in leadership roles are changing – the new generation at least. They are not quite sure what they are changing into, but it sounds intriguing.

It might be called the “middle way”, according to Chip McFarlane, a director at the Institute of Executive Coaching.

McFarlane told me recently that he is noticing a change in the questions men aged between 20 and 40 are asking him. The up-and-coming generation of male leaders are keen to adjust their responses to women in the workplace. For one thing, more of them are reporting to women (although still not enough). These men were raised by a generation of women in the process of change. Their mothers and their sisters had an impact on their perceptions from an early age.

What is interesting is their response. It is, McFarlane says, to find a “middle way” in leadership. This generation of men are looking for something that falls between the hyper-masculine fellow of yesteryear and the guy who is so in touch with his feminine side that he, well, just doesn’t have the balls for corporate life.

The first generation of men to encounter feminism – or perhaps cop a load of it – responded by almost setting aside their masculinity. They set aside their armour and revealed a more vulnerable, sensitive side. But the pendulum swung too far. Bizarrely, the Sensitive New Age Guy (SNAG) in the cardigan had the effect of infuriating women: we want men to retain the good aspects of masculinity, such as power, strength, ambition and competitiveness.

I like the sound of McFarlane’s observations. He says that men – by nature competitive – are learning to harness that impulse for a greater purpose or, “in the service of humanity”, as McFarlane puts it. Men are deciding against a solely self-interested use of their competitive powers. “It allows their competitiveness to have a purpose, and it is useful in business. It is no longer just to vanquish the other,” McFarlane explains.

It is an interesting trend that has implications for corporate leaders. For one thing, it means rethinking the kinds of incentives on offer to young men with talent and ambition: crushing rivals to clamber up the corporate ladder is probably on the wane as a motivator for men (although it was a staple of the chaps in the TV series, Mad Men).

It means that men are looking to each other, and to women colleagues and leaders, for new models of behaviour.

It’s worth the effort of tapping into the new “middle way” that talented men and women are striving to define, McFarlane says. Diversity is established as a key factor in successful and profitable businesses. “A balance ensures longevity and greater perspective,” McFarlane says.

I couldn’t agree more.


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