We need feminine minds, not just bodies

Understanding Asian traditions can unmask the missing link in organizational diversity
By Swati Jena
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/26/2018

In the Indian yoga tradition, the human body is recognized as a confluence of energy pathways, referred to as nadis. Among these are Pingala, described as analogous to the male energies, and Ida, described as analogous to female energies.

Yogic experts insist that male and female do not so much mean gender but they refer to certain qualities. The core objective of yogic systems such as Hatha yoga is to find a balance between these energy systems.

We see a similar philosophy in the Chinese yin and yang, where yin refers to female qualities, and yang to masculine qualities. Neither is superior, and both must exist in balance and harmony.

I think that is the biggest link we are missing as we strive to make organizations more diverse.

Saying that organizations don’t have enough women working for them, especially for leadership positions, is only a part of the problem.

Employers not only have fewer female bodies, they also have fewer feminine minds.

This is where the understanding of male and female derived from ancient traditions found in India and China is very helpful.

Consider a very simple aspect of organizational culture today. Think of the words often used in conversations: “shout-out, go for the kill, nailed it, go rogue, throw under the bus, dog eat dog or cutthroat.”

These words actually have a positive connotation at the workplace. And the more often they are used, the more driven, business-minded a person is likely to be perceived.

Ironically, what kind of words have a negative connotation? What reflects poorly on a person, if used by them? “Soft, sensitive, emotional, caring or vulnerable.”

When was the last time someone was promoted to a leadership position,  man or woman, who was well-known for having any of the latter set of qualities?

These are not merely words, these are attitudes; attitudes of yang and yin, which can be demonstrated by both men and women. But yin is taking a beating in the workplace today.

And there are strange dualities. Externally to media, leadership rhetoric is being laced with yin language of empathy and consideration. However, inside the boardrooms, in practice, it is predominantly yang.

And leaders who are showing their yin side are doing so only after their leadership position is irrefutably established.

One of the most beautiful examples of yin demonstrated by a business leader — and male at that — was Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s account of how bringing up his special-needs child helped him connect better with people. It endeared him to many people’s heart as a leader.

But if Nadella had come out with this story much earlier in his career, what are the chances that — while people may have appreciated it — he may just have been perceived as a dad with great responsibilities at home? And surely this means he is very emotional and attached to his family, so how can he become a CEO?

There is an incentive in the workplace today to accentuate yang behaviours, and subdue yin behaviours — until the time that a person “has arrived.”

This manifests even in women professionals. Women who are making it to the top on merit often feel compelled to demonstrate yang behaviours to an extent that might not be true to their nature. It is like wearing a mask to fit in.

This is why putting women in leadership positions alone will not solve the diversity problem, until they learn the value of yin and yang qualities in equal measures in the boardroom. Because until then, women will naturally or falsely demonstrate the same behaviour, leading to low mental and attitudinal diversity.

Often, it is argued that gender does not matter in leadership. I absolutely agree. Physical gender does not matter — at any level of the organization. But, the masculine and feminine qualities do matter, a lot.

As another example, look at the contrast between two Uber leaders. Former CEO Travis Kalanick demonstrated overwhelming yang qualities of aggressiveness, cutthroat competition, and a complete disregard for people.

Make no mistake, it did make Uber grow fast. And irrespective of what happens when things go out in the media, investors prefer such people — as long as other things can be “managed.”

However, not only did the people aspect at Uber go completely wrong, later, a lot of expensively incorrect business decisions (such as a coverup of a data leak) came to light — emanating from the same disregard for people and rules.

In contrast, new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi seems to bring some balance of yin qualities. He has shown respect for rules and a vulnerability to accept mistakes. It remains to be seen, however, whether this is mere rhetoric or true nature. We will indeed hope for the latter, because the contrast and need for leaders to have yin qualities is evident.

We have seen business casualties of an overtly yang approach in Wall Street. Investigations after the 2008 crash revealed a culture of disregard for people, dignity and ethics.

Yin is business-critical. I hope there are brave leaders out there who are not just brave enough to own and acknowledge their own yin qualities, but encourage others in their team to do so.

We have to start to looking beyond gender as a physical form. Gender is a continuum, it is not an either/or. It is a continuum of different energy systems interacting with each other, manifesting in different measures of attitudes and more than the physical form.

When organizations recognize this and how it impacts business results, they should seek to induct not just more female bodies but more feminine minds.

Swati Jena is the founder and CEO of GhostWritersWorld. For more information, visit www.ghostwritersworld.com.

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