What’s the Occupy Wall Street movement–an ongoing, multi-city protest against corporate greed, cronyism and inequity–got to do with gender politics, you ask? I say: everything.
The movement’s rallying cry is this: We are the 99%. As in, 1% of the population holds the bulk of the wealth and the power in this country, leaving 99% of us struggling to find enough of either to survive.
How did that happen? A case can be made that this inequity is a result of a totally lopsided definition of power, and a completely unbalanced way in which it is valued and exerted in the world. In a world where, for centuries, men have held the bulk of the power and built the very structures of this society unchecked, it’s not difficult to see how we’ve arrived at this point: what we’re seeing is the result of an overvaluation of the masculine strengths–machismo run a-freaking-mok.
As Dr. Judy Rosener told us, there are significant–and proven–differences in the ways men and women operate when they find themselves in a position of power. (Yes, we know, we’re not supposed to say that out loud! After all, if we’re different, one must be better, and one must be…worse, right?) Chief among them:
Women view power as a means to an end to do something; men view power as an end unto itself. Women negotiate in a win-win manner; men negotiate in a win-lose manner.
In fact, the very definition of what it means to have power is a paradigm that’s now, I’d argue, ripe for a serious shift; one that integrates more of the Feminine aspect into the way that power is wielded in the world. When the word power is understood to mean “Power Over,” all but the most powerful are left to find an unempowered place within the system. Whereas another idea–”Power With”–might emphasize collaboration and the empowerment of others, a system that can foster a real sense of ownership and caring.
We dug deeply into this subject in our book, and the more we learned, the more we became convinced. There’s science to back up gender differences in behavior–and there’s statistics to show what happens in corporations where women are included in the highest ranks, the benefits that are reflected in the bottom line.
For example, did you know that, according to Catalyst, companies with significant numbers of women in management have a much higher return on investment? Or that when work teams are equally split between men and women, they are more productive?
Additionally, women are far more willing to go out on a limb and act as the conscience of their organizations. Yes, it’s long been believed that men are the natural born risk-takers, but according to Dr. Rosener, it depends what kind of risk we’re talking about. The kind of risk that one takes with the encouragement of an audience (think Deal or No Deal… or shortsighted shareholders) is the kind at which men tend to excel. The other, which Rosener calls “moral risk,” is the kind that one takes in spite of the audience’s disapproval. And this is the kind at which women excel.
The thing is, historically, women haven’t had much power or position in corporate America. Only a generation ago were want-ads segregated by gender. So it’s no surprise that, as Elizabeth Lesser, author and founder of the Omega Institute, told us:
The feminine has been left out of what we consider to be the most important way of exerting power in the world [and] it’s not thriving in many women, and it’s not thriving in men.
Nor is it thriving in the structures and institutions built by men.
Of course in the opening salvos of women’s migration into the workforce our strategy was to blend in: We were afraid (and rightly so) that if we came at an issue differently, we’d be seen as weak–or worse, tossed out of the boardroom completely. There was a time for blending in. But we’ve shown we can play their game. The time has come to change the rules.