Women, Men and Management: Redesigning Our Future
by Riane Eisler
This essay, Women, Men, and Management: Redesigning Our Future, is based on a paper Riane Eisler authored for the tenth annual congress of the Finnish Society for Futures Studies and the Turku School of Economics. It is excerpted from an article in the January/ February 1991 issue of Futures, an international journal based in Great Britain.
All around us, the world-including the workplace- is in flux. There is growing recognition that fundamental changes are needed for economic and perhaps even species and planetary survival.
The crisis of centrally planned Soviet and Eastern bloc economies has dramatically highlighted the ineffectiveness of a top-down economic architecture where workers are seen as cogs in a giant machine. In ‘free market’ economies like the USA, economic problems have also spurred a search for new ways of structuring the workplace through more lateral (team) work modes, more people-centered (nurturing) leadership styles that support greater creativity and productivity, and attention to issues such as flex-time, childcare, and other benefits that take into account the whole of people’s lives (outside as well as inside the workplace).
At the same time, first on the bottom rungs, and then trickling up into middle, and occasionally top, management, women have entered the paid labor force in unprecedented numbers.
Is the simultaneity of these changes merely coincidental? Or is there a relationship between them, which in turn reflects even more fundamental, but still largely unexplored, systems dynamics?
This essay examines these questions-and their implications for the workplace and society at large-from the new perspective of two underlying types of social organization introduced in my book, The Chalice & The Blade (Eisler 1987): the dominator and partnership models. Specifically, it places important contemporary economic trends as well as changes in gender roles and gender-related values in the context of a movement toward fundamental social and ideological change. Moreover, it looks at these issues-particularly the issue of women as managers or leaders-in the even larger context of our cultural and social evolution.
Women, Men, Work, and Power
In terms of the conventional frame of reference, the terms ‘woman manager’, ‘woman leader’, or ‘woman executive’ are in themselves anomalies. In our history books, empresses such as Catherine the Great and, more recently, presidents such as Corazon Aquino, have by and large stepped into positions of leadership as the widows, daughters, or mothers of men. In business, too, management has been a male preserve, with the occasional top executive who is a woman figuratively stepping into the shoes of men. In other words, power has been practically synonymous with maleness. And it has, by and large, been equated with a particular type of power (the power to give orders and to be obeyed) and with certain types of characteristics (such as strength, toughness, and decisiveness) stereotypically considered masculine. In sum, power has generally been depicted as power over people and, even more specifically, as a male’s power to control people (be it for ill or good).
That view of power is highly appropriate for a social organization that orders human relations primarily in terms of ranking-man over man, man over woman, nation over nation, and man over nature. And it is instructive to remember that, not so long ago, this kind of rank ordering was said to be divinely ordained, be it the ‘divine right’ of a king to rule over his ‘subjects’, or the right of a male ‘head of household’ to rule over his wife and children in the ‘castle of his home.’
Economic relations in this model of society were also believed to naturally follow this pattern. Just as women’s and children’s labor was by law and custom the property of the male head of household, the labor of slaves (and later, to a large degree, of serfs) was said to be due their owners or lords. Even later, in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, with the shift from a primarily agrarian to a manufacturing economy, the relations of workers and bosses tended to follow this mould. Sweatshops, where women, men, and children worked from dawn to dusk in unsafe and oppressive conditions, were accepted as ‘just the way things are.’ And the use of force by industrialists against those who sought to organize workers was often condoned, and at times backed up, by government leaders.
Indeed, whole societies were basically held together by fear backed by force, reinforced by ideologies that commanded loyalty, fealty, and obedience to orders from above-from God (as in the admonition that we must be God-fearing), from kings and lords, from male heads of households, and, in more recent times, from employers (bosses), be they business owners or managers. It was thus the role of the manager, whether as foreman or top executive, to increase production through rewards and punishments designed to maintain vertical hierarchies in an economic system where either monopolies or dog-eat-dog competition were the norm, where women were relegated to the lower-pay and lower-status jobs, and where caring and empathy were seen as having little, if any, relevance.
There were, of course, also lateral relations, bonds based primarily on trust and caring, as without these society could not have functioned. But while the value of these informal relations was often extolled, what counted in actual practice was one’s position in the more formal vertical structures-familial, social, or economic. And while there were kings, lords, heads of household, and later industrialists and managers who were noted for their caring and empathy, these were by and large the exceptions to the norm.
If we now look at two of the major trends in the workplace today-the movement of women into leadership levels and the movement by many women and men toward more empathic or nurturing management styles-we see that both are fundamental violations of earlier norms. And we also begin to see that these trends are not unconnected; that, on the contrary, when viewed from a systems perspective, they are inextricably intertwined. For what they challenge are basic assumptions, not only about the roles of women and men, but about the nature of work and power.
We are not used to making these kinds of connections, because we have been so conditioned to view anything connected with women or femininity as peripheral, unimportant, and clearly secondary to what transpires in the ‘real’ or ‘men’s’ world. But a very different perspective emerges once we take a closer look at some of the contemporary changes in the workplace from a gender-holistic perspective-one that gives equal value to both the female and male halves of humanity.
What we are dealing with here is not a question of women against men or men against women. Rather, it is a question of social organization. What have been described until now are ways of looking at women, men, work, and power that by and large conform to what I have termed a dominator model of society-a way of structuring human relations where, beginning with the ranking of one-half of humanity over the other, the primary organizing principle is ranking, of men over women, men over men, nation over nation, man over nature, or employer over employee.
The terms ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ as used herein (and as still generally used) are to a large extent constructs appropriate for a dominator rather than a partnership model of society. For this is a system where men are socialized for domination and conquest (for what we today call a ‘win/lose’ mode of operations) and qualities like empathy, caring and non-violence (increasingly recognized as requisites for ‘win/win’ approaches) are by and large considered ‘effeminate’, as in the English term ‘sissy’ (weak sister), which describes a boy who exhibits such ‘soft’ or ‘feminine’ qualities.
Moreover, what we are dealing with is not a matter of simple linear causes and effects. Rather, it is a matter of systems dynamics. In other words, we are dealing with complex interactions among mutually supporting and interwoven systems elements-interactions on which an examination of the hitherto neglected, but socially fundamental, organization of gender relations sheds important new light.
Dominator and Partnership Models
In my work over the past decades, I have been re-examining human society from a perspective that takes into account the whole of our history (including our prehistory) and the whole of humanity (both its female and its male halves). As I used this larger data base, what became increasingly apparent was that underneath the great surface diversity of human society, transcending such differences as time, place, technological development, ethnic origin, and religious orientation, are certain basic patterns or configurations that are characteristic of the two models of social organization that I have been mentioning; one oriented primarily toward domination and the other toward partnership.
For example, societies that are conventionally viewed as very different-Khomeini’s Iran, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s U.S.S.R., and the Masai of nineteenth- and early- twentieth century Africa-all have striking similarities. They are characterized by rigid male dominance, a generally hierarchical and authoritarian social structure, and a high degree of institutionalized violence (that is, a fear/ force-based mode of internal as well as external relations). They are also societies where so-called masculine values, such as toughness, strength, conquest, and domination are given high social and economic priority (as in the emphasis on weaponry), and so-called feminine values, such as caring, compassion, empathy, and nonviolence are, along with women, generally relegated to a secondary or subservient sphere that is cut off from the ‘real world’ of politics and economics. Finally, this is a model where difference (whether based on sex, race, tribal or ethnic origin, religion, or belief system) is equated with inferiority or superiority and where in-group versus out-group thinking and behavior are the norm. This is part of the configuration characteristic of societies that are oriented primarily toward what I have called the dominator model.
By contrast, in the partnership model of society, difference- beginning with the most fundamental difference in our species, that between women and men-is valued (as in the ideal of the more pluralistic society now gaining currency). In this type of social organization, whether the family, the workplace, or society at large, so-called feminine qualities and behaviors are not only held in high esteem but incorporated into the operational guidance system, particularly in more ‘soft’ or empowering rather than ‘strongman’ or disempowering leadership styles. And here there is also a generally more equal partnership between women and men, less institutionalized violence, and a more democratic or egalitarian social structure.
Once again, this configuration transcends the conventional differences in time, place, level of technological development, and so forth. For example, while there are technologically primitive tribal societies, such as the BaMbuti, !Kung, and Tiruray, that are oriented toward the partnership model, we also see strong trends in this direction in many modem industrial nations, particularly in the Scandinavian countries. In Finland, Sweden, and Norway, for example, we see that attempts to create a more equitable economic system resulted not, as they did in the U.S.S.R., in a dominator form of communism ruled from the top, but rather in a democratic society with a mix of ‘free enterprise’ and ‘the welfare state.’ And here we also see a strong interest in non-violent means of conflict resolution (for example, the creation of the first peace academies) as well as systemic attempts to create a more gender-balanced society-one where women, along with ‘feminine values,’ are no longer relegated to an inferior status and excluded from the ‘real’ or ‘public’ world.
Moreover, there is mounting evidence that this type of social organization is not, as is commonly believed, a modem invention. Rather, thanks to what British archaeologist James Mellaart (1965) calls a ‘veritable revolution in archaeology,’ data are accumulating indicating that this way of structuring society has very ancient roots. In prehistoric societies, it appears to have flourished for thousands of years in the mainstream of Western cultural evolution before the shift, during a period of chaos and cultural bifurcation, to a world oriented primarily toward a dominator system of ‘strongman’ rule.
All this takes us back full circle to the subject of women, men, work, and power. The way that these earlier, more partnership-oriented societies conceptualized power was very different from the way that we have been taught to see it. In these societies, the powers that govern the universe were not seen as a male deity whose symbol of authority is a thunderbolt (Jehovah or Wotan) or a weapon (Zeus or Thor). Rather, their conception of power focused on the power to give, sustain, nurture, and illuminate life, symbolized since remote antiquity by the female figure of a Great Goddess, from whose womb all life ensues and to whose womb it returns at death, like the cycles of vegetation, to be reborn again. In other words, here the highest power was seen not as ‘power over’ (domination, conquest and control) but as ‘power to’ (life-giving and life-nurturing).
There is also evidence that in this earlier way of structuring society (which goes back to circa 7000 B.C. in the European Neolithic and could still be found in the Minoan civilizations of Crete until circa 1200 B.C.), women were not excluded from positions of leadership. Women were priestesses, and from Minoan society we find images, such as the so-called procession fresco, indicating that the position of high priestess was central to the functioning of society.
Moreover, these seem to have been more generally peaceful societies than we see today. While they were not ideal societies and undoubtedly experienced some violence, they do not seem to have glorified violence as ‘heroic’ or ‘manly’ or institutionalized through practices such as rape and warfare, which are absent in their extensive art.
Along with this are indications that here ‘masculinity’ was not synonymous with ‘manly toughness’. For example, in the Minoan fresco called by archaeologists ‘The Young Prince’, we see a slim young man, unarmed, walking through a garden – a sharp contrast to the later images of armored men killing one another in ‘heroic battle’. In short, in Minoan Crete there seems to have been a more partnership – rather than domination-oriented governing ethos – one where, as Nicolas Platon writes, women and what he calls ‘the influence of feminine sensitivity’ played critical parts.
Another interesting characteristic of Minoan civilization was its extraordinary creativity and inventiveness. Its beautifully alive and naturalistic art has been described by scholars as ‘unique in the annals of civilization.’ And this creativity seems to have spilled over into its technology and business life. Here we find the first paved roads, viaducts, and even indoor plumbing in Europe. And, as Platon writes in Crete, Minoan civilization had a remarkably high general standard of living, with extensive public works. Not surprisingly, the Minoans were also the great trading people of their time, with trade routes extending as far as Egypt.
I suggest that this information, and the new view that it offers of our prehistory, are of relevance to much that is happening in our time. They confirm something that we are beginning to understand better from many contemporary sources-that a dominator model of social organization is less creative and productive than one oriented more toward partnership, be it through less expenditure for warfare or more teamwork and worker involvement. I also suggest that the contemporary re-emergence of a ‘softer’ or, in terms of dominator stereotypes, more ‘feminine’ style of leadership and governing ethos, particularly in the world of business and economics, can be better understood in the larger context of a fundamental social and ideological transformation, the shift toward a partnership way of structuring society.
These prehistoric data also shed important light on the urgency of this shift, at a time when the dominator ethos of conquest and domination threatens all life on our planet. In terms of this larger perspective, we can see that the problem is not, as sometimes argued, advanced technology, but the potentially lethal mix of high technology with a dominator ethos of conquest and domination-‘ man’s conquest of nature’-particularly in a time of mounting environmental crises. And we can also begin to see that in both human and economic terms the dominator model is wasteful and inefficient, with its chronic weapons expenditure drain (which, as armaments become more technologically complex and expensive, threatens even the most affluent nations with bankruptcy), its emphasis on coercion, and its suppression of creativity and the expression of people’s need for meaning and connection with others through their work.
Toward a Redesigned Workplace
Viewed from this more holistic perspective, we can see how the construction of the modem workplace was in critical ways patterned to conform to the requirements of a dominator rather than a partnership type of social organization. Not only was it to be generally hierarchical and authoritarian; it was also primarily designed by and for men who were, in turn, programmed to maintain this type of system.
Its physical structures were properly ‘masculine’ in their inattention to matters stereotypically relegated to women, such as decor or comfort. From the dingy 19th century mills and sweatshops to the angular 20th century office complexes, they were properly devoid of bright colors, soft textures, green plants, flowers, and other ‘feminine frills’.
That is not to say that there were no women in these structures. In fact, in the early days of the industrial revolution, women and children were among the first to work in unbelievably unhealthy, unsanitary and unsafe places, as grimly illustrated by the infamous Triangle Shirt Waist Company fire in which 146 lost their lives because the doors were locked so that they could not take breaks. But while women and children were hired because they could be paid lower wages and were considered more docile and pliable than men, they had little if any voice in their workplace’s design or decor. Only gradually, as more and more women entered the white-collar professions in the 20th century, did the decor of offices begin to change.
One factor was undoubtedly that, first as secretaries making their bosses’ offices more comfortable and later on their own behalf, women helped to change the look of their surroundings. But equally important was that men also began to feel that these changes did not threaten their ‘masculinity’. So what gradually emerged were some of the more humane workplaces we are beginning to take for granted – offices where more colorful and comfortable furniture, paintings and posters on the walls, and even plants and flowers are routine.
But it was not only the physical design of the workplace that was supposed to exclude any ‘effeminate’ or ‘soft’ qualities. As we saw, it was the workplace culture itself, from its governing ethos to its management styles.
The human costs to both men and women of this imbalanced, fear-based, institutionally insensitive, and all too often abusive and dehumanizing way of organizing and managing business, and to the social and economic structure that it reflected, were enormous. But it was said, and generally believed, to be a necessary requisite for economic productivity.
But now it is precisely this ethos and management style that are being challenged, not only by women but increasingly also by men. And a growing business, organization development and management literature documents that these once hallowed beliefs and institutions are not spurs, but rather impediments, to productivity and creativity.
For example, in When Giants Learn to Dance: Mastering the Challenge of Strategy, Management, and Careers in the 1990s, Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter notes how ‘the traditional large, hierarchic corporation is not innovative or responsive enough; it becomes set in its ways, riddled with pecking-order politics, and closed to new ideas and outside influences’. Or as management consultants Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman reported in an earlier book that became a classic in the US business community, The Search for Excellence, what they term ‘excellent companies’ are abandoning rigid top-down hierarchies in favor of more flexible and decentralized units, emphasizing teamwork and worker participation and decision making rather than chains of vertical command. ‘These institutions’, Peters and Waterman write, ‘create environments in which participants in the business and society as a whole’.
As Clement L. Russo (1984, 1985) writes in his article “Productivity Overview: Recognizing the Human Dimension,” what is emerging is a new view of the workplace as a partnership-oriented structure that can ‘transform’ the “daily humiliations” of work into an activity that gives meaning, direction, and self-fulfillment” and that provides ‘the opportunity to cooperate with others in a common enterprise that stimulates respect, creativity, and commitment that will ultimately benefit everyone.’
That this design will indeed ‘ultimately benefit everyone’ is also being increasingly shown in practice. For example, as early as the 1960s at a Volvo plant in Sweden, workers’ teams were organized that met together and decided how they wanted to divide their jobs, when to stop and start the assembly lines, and even what hours to work. The result was both far higher productivity and a much lower number of defects. Similarly, in an article called “Creating a New Company Culture,” Brian Dumaine (1990) reports that in DuPont’s plant in Towanda, Pennsylvania, where managers call themselves ‘facilitators, not bosses,’ productivity has increased by a huge 35 percent over the past four years. And what makes this plant different and so exceptionally productive? It is once again ‘organized in self-directed work teams, where employees find their own solutions to problems, set their own schedules, and even have a say in hiring.’
This is an important move toward a new corporate culture, one that, to paraphrase DuPont’s CEO, Ed Willard, promotes the creation of more effective partnerships to better serve four interrelated constituencies- the customer, the employee, the shareholder, and society at large. It is a culture that recognizes the cultural importance of human beings and human relations. And it requires a fundamental shift in leadership and management styles. As Woolard puts it in his interview with Fortune on the subject of corporate restructuring, “the first thing people watch is the kind of people you promote. Are you promoting team builders who spend time on relationships, or those who are autocratic?” (Dumaine 1990).
In short, what we are told by a growing number of organizational development experts as well as corporate CEOs is that what is urgently needed for both the economy and society is a fundamentally redesigned workplace, one that nurtures human development and promotes cooperative rather than hierarchical human relations. And integral to this redesigned workplace is what we may call a partnership rather than a dominator style of management, emphasizing worker motivation rather than coercion.
Gender Issues and the Restructuring Process
Until now, most books and management training programs that prescribe decentralized structures, participatory teamwork rather than top-down chains of command, nurturing rather than coercive management styles, and ‘win-win’ rather than ‘win-lose’ approaches have only implicitly, rather than explicitly, related these shifts to changes in gender stereotypes or gender-linked values-much less to anything that has to do with the socioeconomic status of women.
But these systems connections are increasingly becoming explicit, as women from all over the world examine their situation in the larger context of a dominator model of society. Actually, this examination started a long time ago, with such writers as Christine de Pisan in the 15th century and 18th and 19th century feminists such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Minna Canth. But it is in contemporary works, such as those of Hilkka Pietila, Hazel Henderson, Devaki Jain and Peggy Antrobus, that dominator economics, and, most important, their partnership alternatives, are being explored. This is not to say that some men have not also noted the necessity for changing the status of women and the so-called feminine for any social and economic restructuring. These men include such well known figured as John Stuart Mill, Marx and Engels, and the Utopian socialist Charles Fourier, who over a century ago observed that ‘the degree of the emancipation of women in an index to the degree of society’s emancipation”. But, until now, any discussion of women and ‘the feminine’ in this larger context has by and large still been relegated to the back shelves. Only in the past few years has this discussion been entering the realm of best-selling books on the future of business and economics, such as John Naisbitt’s and Patricia Aburdene’s Reinventing the Corporation.
Naisbitt and Aburdene acknowledge that because most new jobs created today in the US economy are being filled by women, women have been a major driving force behind the corporate innovations such as flex-time, day-care and elderly care programs, parental leave and other workplace policies that, as they put it, are forcing ‘the humanization of the workplace’. They also point out the importance in terms of social values and economic relations of the contemporary struggle over ‘comparable worth’ – the question of why male occupations such as truck driving should be paid more than female occupations such as secretarial work, when clearly the skills and responsibilities of secretaries (or for that matter of childcare workers and nurses) are equal, and probably considerably greater, than those of a man who drives a truck.
Reinventing the Corporation is of particular interest in relation to the role of women in changing management styles. For it reports some new studies that indicate that precisely because women’s socialization was not designed for them to function in the ‘man’s world’, women today bring to the workplace some of the very skills urgently needed if it is to be fundamentally transformed.
For example, they quote Leonard Greenhalgh (who helped conduct a study of women and men in simulated negotiations sessions) at the Dartmouth School of Business Administration on the ‘advantage’ that women have in working for win/win solutions. Greenhalgh’s study found that women tend to be more flexible, more empathetic and more likely to reach agreement. “when a man visualizes a negotiating situation, he sees it as a one-shot deal to win or lose, like a sport or a game”, Greenhalgh states. “A woman sees it as part of a long-term relationship.” And since most business situations involve long-term relationships, the ‘female approach’ is more productive, he concludes. Or, as Naisbitt and Aburdene put it, ‘in the information society, as the manager’s role shifts to that of a teacher, mentor, and nurturer of human potential, there is even more reason for corporations to take advantage of women’s managerial abilities, because these people-oriented traits are the ones women are socialized to possess.
The problem, however, is that if women are forced to operate in dominator-style structures, they are under tremendous external and internal pressure to ‘be more like men.’ As noted by Alice Sargent and Ronald Stupak (1989) in The Androgynous Manager, women-particularly as middle managers, but sometimes even when they reach the top-will have to ‘step into the shoes of men’ (as was the case in earlier dominator structures and has been said of Margaret Thatcher, who, perhaps unfairly, has been referred to as “the best man in England”).
On the other hand, there is mounting evidence that in situations where women have a strong voice in shaping the system’s rewards and incentives, the culture and structure of the workplace are fundamentally altered. In The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership, Sally Helgesen (1990) describes the innovative organizational structures and strategies of a number of successful women managers. She documents how the workplaces run by these women tend to be more like ‘webs of inclusion’ than hierarchies of exclusion, to be communities where sharing information is key. And she also points out that this structure has the advantage of permitting a greater flow of information, because there are more points of connection or contact than in a hierarchy, where the information flow is strictly up or down along appropriate channels.
Managers of the Future
Once again, it is important here to emphasize that while women today can make a special contribution to the creation of a more productive, creative, and humane workplace, this in no way means that men do not also have a very important role to play in the process. The military (dominator) model that has been the norm for structuring the workplace has been disempowering to both women and men. And it will require women and men working in full and equal partnership to transform that model.
It is also important to emphasize that today many men (even CEOs of major corporations) are rejecting dominator approaches and moving toward a more ‘feminine’ or nurturing way of managing and organizing business. But viewed from a systems perspective, these changes in male attitudes and behaviors are not happening in a vacuum.
If men are finding it possible to adopt more ‘feminine’ values and behaviors, it is in part because the status of women and, with it, men’s attitudes toward what is ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ are changing. An example is the current trend toward men redefining their role of fathering to include some of the nurturing behaviors stereotypically associated with mothering. This trend is not unrelated to the movement toward more ‘feminine’ or nurturing management styles for both men and women. For as women and the ‘feminine’ rise in status, men can increasingly respect-and adopt-‘ feminine’ attitudes and behaviors.
Moreover, it is important to emphasize that while some traits defined as ‘masculine’ in dominator structures (conquest, domination, and the suppression of empathy and caring, along with ‘effeminate’ aesthetic sensibility) have stunted men’s full human potential, other qualities that are also considered ‘masculine,’ such as decisiveness, assertiveness, risk taking, and so forth, are in fact valuable in a structure oriented primarily toward partnership rather than domination.
As Susan G. Butruille writes in “Corporate Caretaking’, an important 1990 article in Training and Development Journal, the trends we are seeing today in the workplace go along with important trends in people’s personal and family lives, particularly the trend towards shared roles by women and men in both work and the family. Butruille reports how, thanks largely to the massive entry of women into the workforce and the rise in dual career couples, a number of studies show that women and men are increasingly concerned about similar issues. In other words, as both work and family relations shift more to partnership, we are seeing a blurring of stereotypical gender-linked attitudes and roles.
For example, Faith Wohl, DuPont’s director of the company’s recently formed ‘Work Force Partnering” Division, says DuPont studies indicate that ‘the attitudes of men concerning work and family issues are rapidly approaching those of women, a significant change over what we saw just four years ago.’ That is why DuPont and many other companies are now going into what Butruille calls the business of ‘corporate caretaking’. That is, they are increasingly recognizing that ‘family support policies’ (ranging from flexible work schedules and child and elder care assistance to sensitivity training and the use of fax machines and modems to facilitate part-time and/or off-site work) are key contributions to a more productive corporate culture as a whole.
An ethos of ‘corporate caretaking’ shared by both women and men is clearly a key element in the transformation from a dominator to a partnership business culture. But since this ethos of ‘corporate caretaking’ in essence stems from what in dominator societies is considered a ‘feminine ethos,’ this transformation cannot take root unless there are also fundamental redefinitions of stereotypical gender roles, both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine.’
In her pioneering work, The Female World, sociologist Jessie Bernard describes how what she terms the ‘female ethos of love/duty’ is conventionally relegated to ‘the female world’ – the private world of the home to which women are supposed to be confined – rather than the public or men’s world. This way as society (and the workplace) changes to incorporate more women, and particularly more women in leadership positions, this ‘female ethos’ is also more likely to inform the policies, structures and processes of the public world. Moreover, and this is critical, it will also tend to change the whole conception of the relation between women, men, work and power.
In this less gender-stereotyped workplace and society, what psychologist Carol Gilligan calls a more ‘feminine view of morality’ (focusing on caring for others rather than abstract principles) and what psychiatrist Jean Baker Miller terms a ‘more feminine definition of power’ (not the capacity to control and limit others, but the ‘caretaking and nurturing capacity to foster the growth of others’) can become a powerful transformative force. For these values will no longer operationally have to be excluded from social and economic policies, as well as the day-to-day functioning of the workplace, as the management of this workplace (and the society it reflects) shifts to a real partnership between women and men.
A striking example of such a management partnership -and a fitting ending for this essay-is the extraordinarily successful partnership of Anita and Gordon Roddick, whose company, The Body Shop, has become a model for the socially and ecologically conscious corporation of the future. What The Body Shop sells, in Anita Roddick’s words, is not only ‘sound products’ (ecologically sound health and beauty aids) but ‘sound values’ (from human rights and ecological consciousness to the promise of a humanized workplace). Anita and Gordon’s joint aim is to ‘rewrite the book of business,’ to ‘be committed to social responsibility, global responsibility,’ and ‘to empower their employees.’ And largely through Anita’s exuberant, often flamboyant, and always unconventional approach to business (which includes a studied irreverence toward the ‘old boys’ and their ways of operating), and both Anita and Gordon’s commitment to a ‘feminine ethos’ of corporate indeed, global-caretaking), The Body Shop has in a few years grown into a multinational, multi-million dollar business, as well as an important force for positive social change.
In this article, I have focused on the interconnection between access to economic and social policy-making and management roles for substantial numbers of women and the shift from what I have called a dominator to a partnership model of society. Unlike most of what has been written on the entry of women into higher management, my focus has not been on the all too familiar problem of women’s difficulties breaking through what is commonly called the invisible ‘glass ceiling’ built into most business and other organizations, which excludes the female half of humanity. Rather, it has been on the organizational architecture itself-not only its gendered glass ceiling but its totality, including its social and cultural foundations.
What I am proposing is that this architecture needs to be redesigned and that women can make a critical contribution in this regard. I am also suggesting that the presence of women in policy-making and managerial positions is a necessary, though not sufficient, precondition to the economic and cultural shift from what I have called a dominator to a partnership-oriented society-and that this transformation requires that careful attention be paid to hitherto ignored gender issues.
Finally, I believe that this transformation is urgently needed at a time when the stereotypically ‘masculine’ leadership and management styles, as well as the dominator hierarchies that they help to maintain, are proving incapable of dealing with our mounting economic, social and ecological problems. And I am convinced that, at this time of rapid and potentially destructive technological and social change, only a full and equal partnership between women and men, informed by an ethos of caring, can ensure that the partnership movement that we are seeing in both the workplace and society at large will succeed.
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