21st century management, social business and feminine values

May 3, 2012


(Picture by Peter Farago & Inkela Klemetz-Farago)

This is something I’ve been thinking of for quite a while now.

Actually, since 2011 edition of the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston. And this telling quote by Jamie PappasSocial Business is more about soft skills than about tech skills. I’ve ben having this impression that organisations governance have been moving from reason-based rigid masculine values such as competition, hierarchy, plans, autocracy and results to more empathic and flexible feminine ones such as collaboration, networks, emergence, democracy and purpose.

Digging into the subject I have found some material that tend to corroborate this idea. In my humble opinion, this probably is the most important point to understand the 21st century organisation (warning, back into long post mood)

Masculine Vs Feminine Values

In this month edition of french Philosophie Magazine, german philosopher Wolfram Eilenberger writes a great piece [FR] on western countries main values. Based on Carol Gilligan‘s book In a Different Voice, he notices that in many areas of our everyday’s lives, standards masculine values are being replaced by more feminine values.

Work is no exception : drawing on Essential of contemporary Management by G. R Jones & JM Georges, Eilenberger witnesses the advent of empowerment, flat hierarchies, positives interactions and responsiveness in the organisations. Half-joking, he wonders if the writers have been coached by feminist activists.

What is interesting here is this Eilenberg analysis is pretty much aligned with Norman Chorn’s when he asks Is Good Leadership a feminine thing ?, article in which Chorn reminds us of how Carl Jung compares masculine and feminine values :

Quite impressive how this reminds me of the management 10 principles of Enterprise 2.0 but we’ll get back to this later.

Women, business and morality

The actual subject of this edition of Philosophie Magazine is the question : Are Women More Moral then Men ?

Funnily enough, there is a study that has been carried out by a British Professor Roger Steare on that very topic in a business environment. The study based on an online questionnaire answered by around 60,000 volunteers from over 200 countries, measured responses to questions about honesty and competency : it showed women are more likely to make decisions based on how they impact on others.

“Women prefer to make their decisions based on how it impacts others – which tends to produce better decisions – while men have a more individual approach and are more self-interested. What this shows is that when it comes to work men have to grow up, put their ego to one side and show some humility and compassion – qualities they all too often have in their personal lives but put to one side when they walk into the office.” (Pr Roger Steare)

Similarly, a spanish study tends to show that workplaces with higher percentage of women in top positions tend to be more democratic (and therefore less autocratic) and provide more individualized feedback (which is key to people motivation, successful companies were built on that assumption).

New New Humanist Management

Now the question one should ask is if feminine management are more moral and their approach of management more human, how come the latter has not been implemented yet in our organisations ?

As an example, in the famous Management Myth article, Matthew Stewart puts both Taylorian and Humanist management modes back-to-back. In particular, it draws on HBS professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter example,who in 1993 advocated the very same “new” concepts that Mary Parker Follett advocated in the 1920s.

Stewart concludes that there is nothing “new” in the “new” organisation humanist management promotes. Well, one could argue that there is one new thing about humanist management. We today have the means to implement it : the business imperative, the tools and the people.

Business Imperative

Now that all companies are somehow on their way to achieve operational excellence (the big objective of the years 00s) while automating whatever could be, what can be the differentiators ? Where can they create value from ? What are the organisation untapped resources ?

The untapped resources business need to tackle mostly are in the networked economy : addressing those is the actual raison d’être of Social Business.

In order to get competitive advantage and achieve business performance, organisation need innovation, collaboration, empowerment, passion, relationships : all these key elements can’t be forced and can hardly be systemized.

The Tools

This social business relies on emergent social software platforms to foster productivity, collaboration, innovation and employee engagement. These Enterprise Social Networks allow to tackle the complexity and the fast pace of today’s demanding market.

The People

I don’t want to sound too simplistic here but women are far more gifted with soft skills than men are and they thrive in this Social Business environment as the 2011 edition of Boston Enterprise 2.0 Conference showed.

Sarah Roberts, Rachel Happe, Jamie Pappas , Marcia Conner, Amy Wilson, Laurie Buczek, Debra Lavoy or Claire Flanagan all made excellent appearances during that conference. Not to forget Susan Scrupski a fantastic catalyst who makes sure Social Business happens and who have been ranked amongst the Top 10 Women in Technology by Fast Company.

The networked and decentralized nature toward which organisations are now moving toward resonates with feminine values. Another example is the world of Agile software product development methodologies. Three out of the ten books that constitute the Agile PMI body of knowledge are written by female professionals : Software Project Manager Bridge to Agility (Michelle Sliger and Stacia Broderick), Coaching Agile Teams (Lyssa Adkins) and Agile Restrospective (Esther Derby and Diana Larsen).

(Note : I will elaborate later on these excellent business books addressing generic business issues, respectively change management, coaching and continuous improvement.  You can read them regardless if you’re involved in Agile software product development or not).

Social Business and Agile software development are examples I mention because I know about. But it goes much beyond as this study by the European Women’s Professional Network tends to show with a 10%/year increase in the proportion of women in boards in top european companies.

Virtuous Circle

The virtuous circle is in place. We have more women in key roles in organisation and we are moving toward more moral and feminine management values. These management values are implemented into decentralized and networked tools that foster the advent of the Social Business and the agile enterprise. A context in which women thrive and play key roles.

The proposition of this article is not to proclaim some kind of SCUM Manifesto 2.0. We don’t want to sway from a very masculine enterprise into a very feminine one. We just want to set the right balance to have a human enterprise.

My take : if you want your organisation to integrate 21st century economy values and perform steadily, make sure you nicely balance genders throughout the whole organisation. This MC Kinsey study suggests that companies where women are most strongly represented at board or top-management level are also the companies that perform best.

7 Responses to “21st century management, social business and feminine values”

  1. Yves Caseau Says:

    Great post ! I have been reading a few things along the same lines but you did a thourough job of stating the different reasons why 21st century management need more women.
    There is a thread of thoughts that I am particularly interested in: women are better are managing emergence (http://organisationarchitecture.blogspot.com/2012/02/social-business-excellence-le.html). Managing emergence requires patience, a form of humility, a systemic vision (that is a broad view that looks at all stakeholders). A cheap justification would be to say that the best form of emergence management is motherhood (but then, this is true for fatherhood as well). As you say, one should not caricature these thoughts, these are subtle points.
    On the other hand, as you hint in your post, this is a deep subject : there are many additional reasons why cooperation requires “feminine values”. It’s not that men cannot learn a few; it’s just more efficient to balance the skills with a balanced management staff.

  2. Cecil Says:

    Thanks Yves. Glad you like it. Thanks for the link to your post regarding business excellence. I’ll go and read it.

  3. John Hagel Says:

    Wonderful post! Could not agree more – you may find my own essay on this topic of interest – The Big Shift: Challenge and Opportunity for Women – available here http://edgeperspectives.typepad.com/edge_perspectives/2010/12/the-big-shift-challenge-and-opportunity-for-women.html

  4. Cecil Says:

    Thank you very much John, I appreciate. Thanks for the link.


  5. [...] if that’s your liking, but shares many great business insights as well. Personally, I like this article a [...]


  6. Hello, just the article I was looking for… But. I want to be able to tell a male colleague that he has a feminne leadership style without him thinking I am telling him he is effeminate. Personally I do not attribute femine to females, and masculine to males.. We need to celebrate feminine as a style necessary for complex systems, but not make it a quality only attributed to women. Exeterlearning, 2012

    • Cecil Says:

      Thank you very much for your very wise comment. You’re definitely right and this is a very interesting perspective. Please refer to John Hagel article (link in the comment) for more information on the topic.


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