Everyone knows nowadays that we are not supposed to stereotype men and women. Everyone knows that women may well be assertive, play sports, work as pilots or doctors or in the armed services. Similarly, we all know that men may work as nurses, teachers, be expressive of their feelings or even dance professionally.
In the early 1970s, the noted psychologist Sandra Bem questioned the idea that sex roles are opposite, bi-polar and mutually exclusive. She proposed the idea of androgyny and found in her research that it was possible for the same individual to be high on both masculinity and femininity. Gender is nothing but a mental categorization we use to organize information and simplify decisions.
But our workplaces stress gender neutrality. In practice, this just puts pressure on women and other non-men to be gender neutral – if they want to be taken seriously that is. Is it even possible that we can keep gender out of the workplace?
For decades since the start of the industrial revolution, the theory and practice of management tried very hard to keep personality out of the workplace. Henry Ford’s famous quote comes to mind here – “why is it that I always get a whole person when all I really want is a pair of hands?” But we know that personality is a large part of behaviour at work – leading, adapting, deciding, initiating, and so much more. And we have since engaged with it in many ways, trying to measure it via so many tools, trying to predict based on our assessments and even factoring for it in the way we create formal and informal rules around work.
Why then gender neutrality? What if we think about moving towards androgynous workplaces instead? Spaces which are physically, socially and culturally high on both masculinity and femininity. What does this mean beyond offering paternity leave or flexi-hours, I am not sure. But on this occasion of International Women’s Day, I invite you to engage with the idea of work as a place of creative self-expression moving away from dichotomies. It is not about right brain or left brain – it is whole brain that is necessary. It is not about cognition or emotion – it is wisdom in judgement that is necessary. It is not about masculine or feminine – it is the integrated self that is needed today.