On Monday over eighty-four million people watched the first 2016 Presidential debate between Hilary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, and Donald Trump the Republican nominee. As a former communication professor and now leadership consultant and coach, I was fascinated by the verbal and nonverbal communication and rhetorical styles of each. The gender differences were stark!
What caught my attention even more, though, was a report I heard the next day on NPR’s Morning Shift on Chicago’s WBEZ. Tony Sarabia was talking with Michelle Goldberg of Slate magazine about her findings from a series of interviews she held with therapists who were seeing an increase in election anxiety.
According to Goldberg’s report, one of the unexpected outcomes of this entire political season is that many young women, after seeing a communicator such as Trump get rewarded time and time again for his bombastic style, they are having second thoughts about “leaning in” and asserting themselves. For many of them Trump reminded them of their ex-boyfriends with whom they broke up with because of bad behavior. Yet, according to these therapists, they see Trump celebrated and validated for the very same bad behavior.
Seeing his rise, it is making these young women wonder if they were right to demand and expect to be treated better than they were. They wonder, “is this what the culture rewards in men?” To watch what Goldberg described as “the dutiful” Hillary Clinton be scorned and starting to slip behind Trump [in the polls?] they started to wonder what the culture really rewards in women. Goldberg surmised these women’s sentiment with: “I’ve been told to speak up, be empowered and develop my full potential but it doesn’t play well among the men in my life and it doesn’t play out well on the national stage either. Maybe, I need to accept a much more limited and reactionary set of possibilities.”
Young women, keep calm and don’t believe the hype!
[tweetthis]Young women, keep calm and don’t believe the hype![/tweetthis]
Young women, trust your first instinct. You do deserve to be treated well, and valued for who you are. My generation needs you to continue to bring your gifts and talents to any context in which you are in and have your voice heard. All men are not like that bad-boyfriend and we are making strides together.
Let me share with you some insights from one context I spend a lot of time in–the world of work.
The type of bullying, bombastic behavior we see playing out on the public stage in this election cycle is an anomaly and is not and would not be tolerated in most workplaces today. Trump’s style is actually a very weak style of communication in which the speaker fails to make clear assertions and support those assertions with evidence. Instead of countering his debate opponent with reasonable arguments, Trump shouts “wrong” as if his yelling would make his assertions true. What I saw was a powerless communicator going up against a well-prepared powerful communicator.
In today’s highly-matrixed, global organizations in which leaders must influence others over whom they do not have direct authority, powerful communication is that which allows the leader to respect her or his own power and voice while at the same time respecting the power and voice of the other.
[tweetthis]Powerful communication is that which allows the leader to respect her own power and voice while at the same time respecting the power and voice of the other.[/tweetthis]
Over talking, interrupting, shutting down the debate belies a type of communication that actually is not rewarded anywhere but in media outlets by ratings-starved networks that created the stage for a communicator like Trump to thrive in the first place.
Young women, take it from those of us who have been around for a while, though there are still gendered disparities at play in our lives, we have come a long way. And we won’t turn back. We can’t.
[tweetthis]Though there are still serious gendered disparities at play in our lives, we have come a long way. And we won’t turn back.[/tweetthis]
There’s no question about it, women now hold leadership positions in every field and type of organization. The gender gap at the very top is often touted as evidence of our lack of progress. For instance, women make up just four percent of the CEOS of S&P 500 companies in the U.S.
The bigger picture, however, shows our rising presence:
- Women make up almost 47% of the labor force.
- Women even make up almost 40% of first level and mid-level management ranks.
- Women currently hold 51.5% of management, professional and related positions.
- Women make up 25% of executive and senior level officials.
- Women comprise 19% of board seats.
What’s more, there are a lot of us out there working, serving, making change happen or just making a living for and with our families.
- 57% of all women 16 years and over are in the labor force
- 61% of all mothers with children under the age of three are in the labor force.
- The labor force participation rate of parents with children under the age of 18 was 70.1% for mothers and 92.8% for fathers.
In spite of the gender gap at the top, “the culture” the world over is calling for and introducing measures to close it. Here are some additional links:
And don’t think for one minute that our presence, and our diverse styles of leading and using power are not making impact on the world.
Recent research corroborates the value women bring to the workplace including the bottom line. For instance, in the Athena Doctrine, the authors conducted a survey of over 64,000 people in thirteen countries, reflecting a wide range of cultural, geographical, political, religious, and economic diversity. My biggest criticism of the study is that it did not include any countries in Africa. Be that as it may, these authors discovered that traits considered to be feminine are those that are rated most highly as needed for success in a variety of organizations across the world. The type of “feminine” leadership they described included the following traits:
- Connectedness—an ability to form and maintain human networks
- Humility—an approach to life that allows for listening, learning from others, and sharing credit
- Candor—a willingness to speak openly and honestly
- Patience—a recognition that some solutions emerge slowly
- Empathy—a sensitivity to others that promotes understanding
- Trustworthiness—a track record and strength of character that inspire confidence
- Openness—being receptive to all people and concepts
- Flexibility—the ability to change and adapt when circumstances require
- Vulnerability—the courage to be human and make mistakes
- Balance—a well-rounded sense of purpose
These competencies, some label as “soft skills,” are primarily associated with women, and underlie the collaboration, communication, and cultural competence so necessary in today’s successful workplace. “Soft-skills” are now the “hot skills” for success in today’s highly “matrixed,” global work environment–for men and women.
More and more we are seeing the most effective organizations develop inclusive leadership practices that address gender biases (whether conscious or unconscious). Leaders in these organizations understand that it is not enough to use more advanced theories of organizations but they have to cultivate a workplace culture in which they value diverse styles of leading that include the wide-ranging styles of women.
Organizations are changing and broadening their talent pools to acquire and advance more women into leadership. They have much more work to do to advance women of color through the pipeline into senior leadership positions.
But please know, outside of the world of election year politics, the Trump-leadership style displayed on reality TV is not what makes America great. Neither is it tolerated in the organizations and institutions in which real people, such as you and me, work and serve.