I once worked with a female team lead who prioritised a nurturing leadership approach. She was readily available to support her team members, even with personal matters that extended beyond work-related issues. Her leadership was characterised by compassion, and she even offered flexible work arrangements for team members experiencing personal challenges. However, the organisation’s management did not align with her leadership style and consistently critiqued her approach, despite her team’s excellent performance. They perceived her style as a sign of weakness and expressed concerns about how employees perceived the organisation as a result.
The essence of femininity, which encompasses nurturing, sensitivity, empathy, and warmth, holds a reservoir of skills and capabilities often overlooked in our workspaces. Innovation, creativity, intuition, and meaningful expression are just a few of the many valuable attributes deeply rooted in these traits. It’s crucial to recognize that femininity isn’t exclusive to women; men, too, can embody these qualities.
On the contrary, we’ve long praised certain masculine traits—aggression, ambition, firmness, and strength—as more fitting and beneficial for the workplace and for leadership. It’s crucial to recognize that masculinity doesn’t conform to a single, uniform standard; there exists a wide spectrum of masculinity, and men may exhibit various forms. Traditionally, dominant masculinity has held the highest regard, aligning with stereotypical male characteristics, often sidelining more feminine traits. Conversely, subordinate masculinity is observed in men who display attributes traditionally associated with femininity, like nurturing and compassion. This inherent bias frequently steers individuals into career progression and leadership positions, perpetuated by prevalent workplace cultures.
This dynamic manifests a paradox where feminine traits are undervalued in professional settings. The irony lies in how women face a dilemma when they attempt to channel their masculine energy—they are reminded that they aren’t men. This struggle, termed the ‘double bind,’ shackles women in leadership; when assertive, they are labelled harshly, and when nurturing, they are penalised for not adhering to the accepted norms of leadership.
The phrase ‘use your femininity’ has gained traction, encouraging both men and women to tap into their feminine energy to infuse workplaces with positivity and value. The coexistence of femininity and masculinity in a work environment can potentially create a space that’s both highly valuable and positive. However, this vision clashes with the devaluation of feminine traits, often driving women out of the professional arena, feeling undervalued and out of place.
Misconceptions further muddy the waters of femininity in the workplace, sometimes stereotyped as adhering to specific appearances or attitudes. This limited view discounts the diversity of women and their natural expressions. On the other hand, Inclusive workplaces, champion acceptance—embracing individuals for who they are, whether evoking masculine or feminine traits. Such inclusivity sparks trust, engagement, diverse perspectives, innovation, and, ultimately, superior business results.
Yet, as we strive for inclusivity, we need to reflect: Are we genuinely prepared for this shift? Are we open to embracing femininity in the workplace and acknowledging the value it contributes? Can we move beyond the gender binary and perceive our colleagues as unique individuals, each offering distinct strengths and expertise?
It’s a challenge that beckons to both men and women alike. Are we ready to honour and respect a nurturing female leader or a gentle male leader, appreciating the value they bring? Can we shed our preconceived notions and tap into the beautiful feminine traits within us to foster positive career growth?
The question persists: Are we truly ready for femininity in the workplace? It’s time for introspection and progress for the betterment of all.