Should MADMEN Give Career Advice to Women? No,Thanks!

What is it about?

A discussion started in the comments of a post, published by my friend and colleagueDorothy Dalton10 ways women supposedly sabotage their careers!

So, what are these 10 ways ?

  • Women tend to speak softly –
  • Women groom in public –
  • Women sit demurely –
  • Women speak last in meetings –
  • Women ask permission – like children
  • Women apologize –
  • Women tend to smile inappropriately
  • Women play fair – women tend to be more naive.
  • Women make themselves invisible –
  • Women offer a limp handshake

Although I have of course met women executives who might have benefited from some of the above advices, under specific circumstances, I find it incredibly sexist, stereotyped and above all, stupid, to set these 10 commandments.

Why is it sexist?

Women are supposed to be this naive, inappropriate, shy, childish, clumsy, transparent,weak and soft little thing? Women without flesh, substance, presence, natural authority, passion, determination and a strong sense of humour?

Come on, Mister Citibank!

I have shaken quite as much limp hands among men as among women.

I have coached men in search of leadership development who were as charismatic as jellyfish. I also met women whose energy was on full watts and required some fine tunings, in order not to blind others.

It’s not only sexist and stereotyped, it’s plain stupid and ethnocentric.

Since when are we supposed to follow a set of behavioral rules?

Obviously, it’s a good idea to raise the volume of your voice if you want to be heard. However, there are times when turning on the volume in order to impress the others is counter-productive.

Here is one example, when Phil Davison, a Republican candidate for the position of Treasurer in Stark County, Ohio, gives his “Crazy Campaign Speech”. I was sent this link via Twitter thanks to my respected and admired colleague Max Atkinson. He has a strong sense of humor…

  • What about one’s personal style? The communication style described by this set of rules matches with one, two or three of the Twelve Leadership Stylesfrom the SPM profiling model I presented in this blog. The Persuader, as Meg Whitmanthe Achiever, as Ursula Burns, or the Pionneer, as Gail Evans . There are, ( at least!), nine other styles that reflect different preferences and aspect of personalities. You can be effective and convey authority while sharing emotions, showing empathy , moderation and warmth, like in The Moderator Style. Or creativity, originality, intuition and vision, as in The Innovator Style. SeeCharlene Li or Indra Nooyi . You could also express your sociability, love for interactions, sense of hedonism at work and fun with The Networker Style. SeeArianna Huffington, my next post on Geronimo, followed by the six other leadership styles. The purpose being to provide inspiration  by offering a large diversity of role models, both masculine and feminine, representing different generations and different cultures. Not the over fifty, white, male, English speaking dominant type!
  • What about the context? In which organization does it take place? Obviously, here, it has to be reframed in the banking context, and it is specific. When and where does it take place, who are the actors? Is it during a Steering Committee, during a team briefing, an informal meeting, an appraisal interview? So many opportunities to behave according to the organization, the rituals, the codes, the timing, the people.
  • What about cultures? We can observe many variations of communication styles among cultures. This set of rules applies specifically in the anglo-saxon cultures. The next global leadership will take place in a multi-cultural environment. Read this article from the HBR, Bringing the Global Mindset to Leadership, by Mansour Javidan.

“What does the leader of the future need to be successful? Leaders who have a high level of Global Mindset are more likely to succeed in working with people from other cultures. Having Global Mindset requires:

Intellectual capital: Global business savvy, cognitive complexity, cosmopolitan outlook
Psychological capital: Passion for diversity, quest for adventure, self-assurance
Social capital: Intercultural empathy, interpersonal impact, diplomacy

Leaders with a strong stock of Global Mindset know about cultures and political and economic systems in other countries and understand how their global industry works. They are passionate about diversity and are willing to push themselves. They are comfortable with being uncomfortable in uncomfortable environments. They are also better able to build trusting relationships with people who are different from them by showing respect and empathy and by being good listeners.” Mansour Javidan in theHarvard Business Review, May 2010.

One of the key skills will be the ability to adapt, to flex to different styles, develop trust and respect for cultural differences.

  • What about the soon to be Five Generations @Work? Would you give the same advice to a Boomer, a Millennial, a Generation X or a Traditionalist?

In conclusion, in order to give anyone career and leadership advices, one needs to be avoiding stereotypes and generalizations. If City Bank ‘s advices to women reflect the shared representations that men have of women at the workplace, then it’s a pale and poor one.

The reference to Mad Men is on purpose, as in the iconic American TV series, taking place in the 60s, inside an Advertising agency on MADison avenue, where women are objectified and infantilized, grooming themselves, smiling inappropriately, being passive, seductive, naive and polite. These advices given by CityMen Bankers reminded me immediately of the series.

The problem being that we are not in the sixties anymore, not in a fiction, and that sexism is still alive.

If you want to learn more about how MAD MEN are still alive in 2010, read the excellent article in The Atlantic “Are we the Women in Mad Men?”

What if we gave more credit to Wise Men and Wise Women? What if we stopped waiting for Superman?

Another way to embrace leadership, empowering men and women with wisdom and vision, marrying the feminine and the masculine.

Allowing men, Not Only Women, reveal strength and courage with consideration for others, humanism, warmth, empathy and tolerance, without appearing to be “weak” , too feminine nor naive …

What if now the time has come to nurture the feminine and honor her incredible creative power and vitality?

This post will be my first contribution to the Now of Leadership Carnival, co- created with Anne Perschell.

2 thoughts

  1. What a great post! In my experience, the reason there are fewer women in top positions is because they prioritise differently – if they have children, they often choose to work part-time and they avoid jobs that involve long hours/travel/commnuting, and often choose flexi-time over a financial bonus. If we want women in top jobs (and I think there would be many benefits) we need to make the workplace more flexible, and encourage men to take more responsibility for their children.

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