The era of Mad Men gender politics may have improved, but professional women still face toxic work cultures. A 2017 PwC survey shows that women employed within majority-male workplaces are more likely to report that men in the office are making it difficult for them to excel.
Gender bias, harassment and pay inequality greatly highlight the discrimination working women face on a daily basis. Compounding these issues, women are traditionally socialized with stereotypical feminine characteristics like empathy, intuition and caregiving — traits which are often derided in the workplace. Meanwhile, stereotypically masculine qualities like assertion, directness and competition are praised, leaving many women to feel they need these traits to succeed in business.
Of course, both women and men hold a nuance of traditionally masculine and feminine qualities, so it’s essential to infuse a balance of both perspective into corporate cultures.
In the era of the #MeToo movement, especially, businesses ought to create a more supportive and productive work environment for all of a business’ employees. Nurturing and encouraging stereotypically feminine traits like empathy, caring and intuition is one way to profoundly do that.
Empathy Improves Engagement and Productivity
Being emotionally open and empathetic in the workplace does not always come naturally, but empathy is the cornerstone of a healthy work culture. It’s needed to effectively understand and share the feelings of coworkers and is especially important during the decision-making process.
In 2018’s Businessolver’s Empathy in the Workplace Index, 96 percent of employees consider empathy an important trait for their CEOs to show, but 92 percent of workers still believe that empathy is undervalued.
Joe Shanahan, the CEO of Businessolver, says the current lack of empathy in the office comes from the discrepancy between two groups who view the behavior of practicing empathy in the office differently.
Speaking to Forbes, Shanahan says, “It’s time to change perceptions and increase our standards for empathy and it’s clear that increased workplace diversity makes organizations more empathetic.”
Shanahan continues, “CEOs are no longer free to sit on the sidelines and delegate workforce culture to their HR team…they need to be part of the change in conversation if they want to stay ahead of their competitors and equally important, engaged with all employees – both the senior executives and the interns.”
Empathy is perhaps more important to corporate cultures than many realize — when people are treated like people, their productivity skyrockets. Forbes reports that up to $600 billion in worker productivity is lost each year due to lack of engagement, and incorporating empathy is one of the best ways to combat that trend. This results in benefits like higher employee satisfaction and productivity, lower turnover, improved profitability and higher levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty. Behind every happy workforce lies empathy.
In an article for The Huffington Post, Claudia Chan, CEO of S.H.E Global Media Inc. believes corporate cultures should offer a diverse option of interest-based network and support groups. Organizing groups that have the same interests or need the same support — think: parenting groups — can help everyone feel understood and supported, while also creating bonds amongst workers.
Cultures of Care Influence Safety & Respect
Caregiving is traditionally associated with women and mothering. But in the workplace, a caregiver is simply someone who nurtures his/her team’s growth and demonstrates a positive work ethic through values, purpose and passion.
In fact, creating cultures of care help to shape safer, more respectful environments. A PwC study reports, “companies that do not promote safe, equitable and bias-free environments for all employees do so at tremendous risk to their organizations.”
Safety is key to allowing workers to freely focus on their work and develop professionally; women who face sexual harassment and retaliation for reporting abuse at work are keenly aware of how these trauma can sideline their careers.
While many Americans believe women are better than men at creating safe and respectful workplaces, both male and female leaders can provide better safety and respect by promoting strong moral codes in a company culture that cares about their team members, allowing each team member to be their best self.
Creating a caring culture influences safety and respect for everyone in the office, especially when there are written harassment policies, transparent practices and strong support networks surrounding these cultures. When both women and men feel safe and respected, it’s easier for them to have a voice and feel more productive.
Intuition Informs Collaboration & Innovation
Although intuition was long labeled “women’s intuition” because of the stereotype that women are more “instinctively emotional,” research shows that the skill is available to anyone. And the ability to observe the intangible and pick up on nonverbal cues is absolutely critical to working effectively with colleagues and making better decisions.
However, the importance of intuition in the workplace has often been ignored in favor of hard data and facts. Yes, we need analysis to make crucial decisions, but intuition helps empower us and create more innovative and sustainable companies. According to research published in Psychological Science, intuition can help those who use it make faster, more confident decisions.
It also creates environments where workers are more collaborative and self-aware. Some new, “intuitive workplaces” — where employees share information and access more information about others — use technology to drive more intuitive practices when it comes to employee well-being and self-care in the workplace. HRZone reports that a growth of personal technologies like Smart Watches and Fitbits, along with digitized ways of working, lets employees quantify their health, well-being, work habits and mood at work. By 2030, it’s predicted that data collected through these digital technologies and employee monitoring devices can create agile work cultures that conserve energy, resources and create more efficient workers. Further, this data informs employees how to work best with one another.
When a workplace has a strong balance of data and intuition, it shows that they trust their employees and engage them in transparent communication as they innovate — true hallmarks of a healthy and productive workplace.
Plenty of CEOs indicate how important they think intuition is on the job and for burgeoning work cultures. Oprah Winfrey told O Magazine in 2011: “I’ve trusted the still small voice of intuition my entire life. And the only time I’ve made mistakes is when I didn’t listen.” Profound leaders like Apple’s Steve Jobs called intuition “more powerful than intellect.”
Mindfulness tactics like meditative breaks (used by Steve Jobs) and self check-ins help employees stay connected to their feelings. If employees don’t feel right about the direction of a project, it allows them to examine and communicate those gut feelings with collaborative leaders. Without intuition, innovation can’t exist and vice versa.
Redefining Feminine Psychology in the Workplace
Instead of suppressing feminine qualities because they may be deemed socially unacceptable at work, women and men need to feel empowered to embrace their soft skills. After all, it is only by incorporating these traditionally “female perspectives” that we can create healthier, better-rounded, and more innovative companies. Getting in touch with one’s own soft skills is, of course, a wonderful side effect.