Women, Work and the Arc of Democratization

Often we live in the middle of slow-moving change, which only appears dramatic when we step way back.  It makes you wonder what possibilities go unnoticed, and who seizes on the opportunities buried in those slow changes.  For instance, I have long thought that the entrance of women into the workplace in large numbers – and increasingly into leadership positions – is an example of such long-slow change.  Over time, women (and progressive men who have welcomed their arrival) have humanized and democratized workplace culture.  Autocratic, topdown, paternalistic leadership – which almost never made much sense – was long tolerated as part of business culture.  Now, with a more traditionally feminine emphasis on relationships at work – collaboration, encouragement, diversity, etc. – that has changed.  It’s the humanization and democratization of work that has resulted, for example, in Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” quadrupling their rates of telecommuting in just one short decade.  It’s good for the workers, and what’s good for the workers often times…well, you know.


In the long arc of workplace change, I wonder if we are still slow catching on – catching on to the shortcomings of some old models of leadership.  We still seem rapt by the Alpha Males, for whom drives for sex and power irrationally take precedence over the long term welfare of the people they have campaigned to lead.  I wonder will males adapt?  Can we intentionally evolve?  Or will the culture (led by the strong demands of women) simply realize that women are just more reliable – less distracted, contentious, egoistic, and (one of our dirty male secrets) less vindictive?  


I’d love your feedback in any of three ways:   1.  Answer a one-minute survey about women’s capability and advancement;  2. Hit the comments key below and weigh in.  3. Listen and call in this Saturday when we discuss the evolving roles of women at work on the Everyday Leadership show.


Say no to the dictator – whether within or without – and push for the humanization and democratization of work, as you


Lead with your best self,



  • I have not found women to be more reliable – less distracted, contentious, egoistic, and less vindictive, in the work place or in organizations. I have seen some women who are all these things, but with a variation of how these traits are manifasted. Humanizing and democritizing is a trend I ascribe to neither men nor women.

    I have seen Democritizing lead to inadequately qualified persons having too much power. When everyone is equal in feeling empowered, the best do not always reach the top. The most assertive, and often less intelligent will push their way to the top, by hook or crook and take over an organization. I am not placing the blame on women when this happens, but I see this as more common today, than twenty yeas ago, when expereince and long term loyalty meant more than it does today. New persons in organizations, insitutions and businesses often want to eliminate the long term experienced individuals, as a matter of power and control. The good person who acts as you suggest is the one who gets trampled on. In most cases taht person needs to find a better environment, but then always at the risk a stampede of the power monsters will charge in.

    Do you know of anybooks about what to do when confronted with power monsters, whether men or women?

  • First of all I answered the survey. I probably answered the survey as wishful thinking.

    Now, I would like to share a personal belief. This personal belief is very strong.

    If we lose our middle class, we will no longer be a democracy. We will be everlasting indentured servants. Both political parties are working hard to eliminate the middle class. A middle class has ideas and that frightens the elitists who want machines and non-thinking robots.

    I believe that women should have a chance to make this world right. They should be leaders of all the nations on this planet, especially women who possess the characteristics of nurturing and sensitivity. These two characteristics will make them God’s greatest creation.

    Men continue to screw up this world. There is no difference between men and boys except for the price of their toys. The most expensive toys are nuclear weapons that men deify.

  • There was an excellent op-ed piece in the Washington Post on this topic yesterday.

    Fixing the Economy? It’s Women’s Work.

    By Katty Kay and Claire Shipman
    Sunday, July 12, 2009

  • Dan, I hope you’re right, but I think it is happening at a glacial pace – possibly too slow for the rate of change needed by our planet, nation and communities. Here’s my personal example: in 1985 I was involved in an initiative at my then employer to increase “opportunity for women,” and increase their numbers in technical and management positions. In 1991 I was involved in an “opportunity for women” initiative at my next company. in 1996 I was involved in an”opportunity for women” initiative at – you guessed it – my next company. In 2000, I gave up on corporate America and started my own company, and now I have started another one (in alternative energy here in Michigan). But most of the start up capital is controlled by venture capitalists, who a heavily male dominated culture. So, here is the ironic part: recently I was contacted by a headhunter who is trying to find a female partner to join a very well known VC firm. After over 25 years of working in the engineering and technology field, the same record is still being played, in businesses of all sizes and types. Things are improving, but very, very slowly. I”m glad to read your remarks today, and hope that you will continue to promote this topic.

  • Dan.

    I send out “The Cheese”! Every single day. It is about Change and how resistant people are to making change. I loved the comments by Mark John Hunter, I too have seen women demonstrate those same qualities that we depise in men. Is that a sign of equality? I wonder… Does that further document that we all have the same capabilities to move toward Greatness?

    I believe that all of the “ISMS” exist because of a resistance to Change. Sexism, Racism, etc.

    One of my favorite quotes from last weeks “Cheese” said this: “People who encounter opposition often look externally for causes or blame. But the best way to initiate Change and to make progress is to first look inside–to start with yourself. ~Stephen Covey

  • I’m surprised at the tone of this week’s message–the issue seemed to be more about the differences between men and women, instead of the initial comment about change. Mark Hunter’s comments echoed mine, as I have had to deal with as many “alpha” women as “alpha men”. Was the workplace too autocratic for too long? You bet. Was it soley because of alpha men? No, the issue is far more complicated. Look at the mighty train–200 tons of metal, starting slowly, gaining speed, moving fast, slowly braking. Once started, it is hard to stop. I’d write more, but need to get back to work.


  • Unions have seen a dramatic rise in union officer positions, even in trades typically male-dominated. Re women in workplace, perhaps the union anthem, ‘DON”T MOURN: ORGANIZE!” is appropriate.

  • Today, it is no longer about the lack of a level playing field for women to successfully compete with men in the executive suite.

    It’s really about women executives not shooting themselves in the foot due to a lack of leadership capability. By developing effective leadership skills, from becoming more self-intelligent and emotional-intelligent to understanding how their behavior is perceived by their direct reports and peers, female executives can achieve success in the executive suite.

    The most critical knowledge a woman executive needs is self-intelligence or an awareness of her personal beliefs/assumptions, values, guiding principles and vision. And being emotionally intelligent about knowing how the people in the organization will respond, adapt and execute matters. Women executives can also fail when they lack contextual knowledge due to not knowing the territory; commonly referred to as the corporate culture. This knowledge gap can lead to difficult problems from direct reports to the board of directors.

    Every department, business unit, division and enterprise has a culture that the leader must respect or the culture will push the leader out.

    Carly Fiorina’s short stay as CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HP) is an example of not really getting the HP culture. According to Warren G. Bennis of the University of Southern California, “She leaned too heavily on change and failed to celebrate the tradition of HP.”

    Julie Roehm, a high-flying marketing executive at Wal-Mart who was fired in December 2006, acknowledged mistakes, among them moving too quickly and not adapting to her new workplace. Her perceptions painted a picture of warring fiefdoms and a passive-aggressive culture that was hostile to outsiders. Wal-Mart, she says, “would rather have had
    a painkiller [than] taken the vitamin of change.” What has she learned? “The importance of culture. It can’t be underestimated.”

    Most women promoted to general management roles don’t have a mentor or coach to help their perceptions to evolve and become a leader. Learning how to build relationships with peers, C-level superiors, key customers and major suppliers matters.

  • I’ve worked nearly 30 years in a male dominated auto culture. During that time the autocratic top-down paternalistic office culture has been largely replaced by team building, diversity, empowered employees, and bottom-up decision making. Is the change due to more women joining and staying in the workplace? No, I think management culture has evolved due to the competition to recruit and retain the best talent.

  • I must disagree with your general (and sexist) comments about women, though positive as you make them to be. I’ve worked with and for a number of women who are women are not reliable or humane, and who were obviously egoistic and quite vindictive. Being female myself, I never expected to encounter such competitive behavior among other women. I’ve learned over my many years in the working world, and everywhere, that women can be just as noncommitted to their peers and employees as anyone. There are some wonderfully kind and generous men out there who are highly concerned about leading others in positive ways. If there is a difference with women, it may be that insecurities and malevolent behavior is hidden under a veneer of good character, yet insidiously persistent. Gender is not that much of a factor. Personal and professional integrity is.

  • In response to John’s post, I submit that it ought not to be about a corporation’s culture. While I too agree that women can be as dysfunctional as men in terms of leadership, I have observed that there has been a good dose of cooptation of and by women in order to move up the ranks. This is not healthy. Bringing women into these environments to bring “female” attributes to it is a good thing. Men can bring these same attributes. It’s a matter of consciousness. What are our intentions? If it’s just to move up the corporate ladder, make more money, etc….then you are going to see more cooptation…anything to succeed. If the person is self-possessed with intergrous vision, that will carry to the whole. To the extent that this is rejected by the corporate culture…the corporation fails the society it is meant to serve.

  • Rather than debate the value of one gender over another, I am more interested in the blend. How do we take the best of male leadership and the best of female leadership to address our most crucial issues such as environmental protection, economic recovery and world peace? I’d love to join forces with these goals in mind.

  • Let’s take a few things into context here.

    1) Very weak survey questions – any academic or peer review would disqualify it

    2) With that, let’s remember there are more woman than men in the world, but the numbers are very close

    3) Let’s factor in that there will always be women who WANT to stay at home and raise a family, and the material instincts are stronger than a mans (need citation) so the desire for woman to be in management, in the workforce, or succeed in corporate jobs is arguably less than mans, so the population is less, so the % statistically would be less.

    I would have liked to see questions like

    Given a man and woman with similar desires, what do you feel is the capability of them succeeding (man 60% woman 40%, man 50 % woman 50%, ….. )

  • I had the honor of meeting Marie Wilson last week, and this topic was something on her mind as well. Everyone has positive and negative anecdotal stories about women in positions of leadership, and we tend to judge based on our own experiences and philosophies, rather than an objective analysis. In their WaPo piece, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman point out a stunning conclusion from research done by Ernst & Young: Companies with more women in senior management roles make more money.

    To paraphrase Einstein, we cannot solve our problems from the same consciousness that created them. This country has been run at all levels by privileged white men for decades. I have nothing against privileged white men, in fact, I love men. But I also grieve for men, because they’ve been sold a bill of goods about the need to separate their hearts and heads. Marie did a wonderful piece in HuffPo about Robert McNamara, whose determination to separate his emotions from his intellect with regard to the Viet Nam war nearly destroyed him personally, and tore our nation apart.

    Human beings are, by nature, integrated beings. More and more, credible scientific investigation is showing a direct correlation between our thoughts, our emotions and our physical health. I believe it is far easier for a woman with emotional intelligence to educate herself and improve her intellect, than it is for a man to try to overcome decades of social and cultural indoctrination and integrate his intellect and emotions. What’s deeply unfortunate is that some women are getting the message that they also have to separate themselves in order to adapt and succeed in the workplace. I think that’s one of the reasons women in the business world are more likely to drop out of the “rat race” after they have children, as the WaPo piece points out. They’re doing business in a way that is unnatural.

    I think if we champion workplace improvements that makes it possible for PEOPLE to take care of their families and attend to their own personal needs, both men and women will benefit and companies will improve their bottom lines. This hard-headed, profit-driven, win-at-all-costs business model is just not working any more, and we’ve all had a part in perpetuating it. In fact, maybe the first step is acknowledging that women have to accept as much responsibility for enabling this dysfunctional system as men do for having developed it.

  • Dan,

    I read somewhere that it takes upwards of ten years for any substantive change in corporate or organizational culture to take place. It is also reported that groups of people make substantive changes only when it becomes more uncomfortable to stay the same than it does to change. It appears that changes may a require nothing less than the replacement of one generation by another. It seems, perhaps, the one place in the universe where those pesky laws of entropy have little or no effect.

    I’ve worked in jobs traditionally open to women, in such areas as human resources, grant writing, public relations, and academic staff positions and often found it difficult to compete with women for mid-level staff positions because so many of the female candidates were massively over-qualified for those positions. I presume it was from years of bumping against glass ceilings, at least until a critical mass of qualified candidate for upper management forced a crack or two in the barrier. Little wonder then, that even a small opening results in a flood of qualified female candidates.

    There is a reverse side to this unchanging coin — unemployed for nearly six months now, I’ve been applying for jobs traditionally held by women: full and part time secretarial and administrative assistant positions, for example. The silence has been deafening, as though my applications were part of a bad joke. Oddly enough, at the beginning of the 20th century, nearly all secretarial positions were held by men. Now (in my experience) the roles have reversed so completely most potential employers won’t seriously consider a man for such a job. It all happened within a mere 100 years…

    I’m 59 years young and through the peculiar and puckish grace of genetics, my hair is white. I can replay the opening scenes of nearly every job interview in the last six months — beginning with the sudden, cool breezes wafting from the employer’s end of the table to the awkward silences which should have been filled with probing questions about my skill set and experience. I believe that affirmative action, like prohibition, has proven that you cannot legislate away prejudice and stereotyping. I’m hoping for change, but frankly cannot wait another 100 years!


  • “More reliable, less distracted, contentious, egoistic, and less vindictive?” Was your wife looking over your should when you wrote this? I can’t remember when I’ve read a more sexist post from someone I respected.

  • I think that as dads become increasingly involved in parenting, as families increasingly depend on dual incomes for survival, and as eldercare becomes as much an issue for we boomers as childcare is for young parents, “family-friendly” workplaces will become commonplace. I trust that all managers will use a broad definition of “family” in their development of “family-friendly” policies. Nieces, nephews, partners, parents, neighbors, friends… all make up my family in a very real sense – and I wish they all counted in workplace policy, as well.

  • I’ve seen a continual ‘softening’ of work leadership styles, and adoption of new styles that are more varied, foster greater teamwork, and achieve better results. In general, that transition has been accompanied by increased numbers of women in the workplace — and in leadership roles.

    In the same timeframe, business writers [mostly male] have helped us to reframe the models of leadership. They’ve expanded our framework for understanding leadership [sharing the results of great male and female role models]. Together, we’ve learned the value of teamwork and of harnessing personal passion — and we’re learning ways to foster those attributes in our work environments.

    On this topic, however, I’m worried about preparing our young men for the next generation of work. I see less young males than females opting for higher education or otherwise preparing for the work environment of the future. I’m concerned at the number of young men who don’t see a future professional role for themselves [and therefore bypass the education and preparatory steps]. We need to actively engage young men and women in this preparation!

  • Things will never be equal – too much human nature involved. That includes the internal drive to win, the fear of not being accepted, the desperation of supporting one’s family.

    Do I wish it would be different? of course. And small glacial changes will do that – but not in my lifetime.

  • This is a bit of an odd topic. In the world of business there is no room for emotion based decisions. Having said that I will offer up my facts. I am a woman, 29 years old. I have owned my own business for about 5 years. Being young and employing 70 people has been a challenge. The biggest was earning the respect I deserved. Partly because I was a woman but I believe mainly because of my age. My management team is older than me and in some cases by twice my age. Management is 50/50 male & female.
    The women I employ make up about 65% and the men are about 35%. It is a direct result of the kind of business I have, this field is dominated by women. What I have noticed based on gender is that the women stick together as a team and work together. The men seem to fight each other more often, perhaps as a power move? If we generalize things this may be a surprising observation due to the fact that women are labeled as “katty, gossips & dramatic”. Could the cause for this not to be the case because I am a woman in charge? I’m not sure. I do believe it has some influence over the matter. As a woman I believe that when you discipline an employee you do need to build them back up. You will never get the outcome you desire from beating a dead horse. Could this be a grey area that men fall short in? Are they too tough? Again I am not sure as I am not a man.
    Overall I feel women may never have the equality that they strive for. However they are not always deserving. A sense of entitlement doesn’t serve a good purpose to any person. One must earn it. I do not believe that just because of your sex or race you should be granted a position you are not qualified for. In many ways I feel that the democratic systems adopted by huge companies have led to their demise. I believe in democracy as long as the powers that be don’t abuse their power. I love this country & the rights we are granted. However if I could change one thing it would be the criteria to gain positions of power. Business people I feel are best equiped to run our country…man or woman.

  • Hi Dan,

    I think your survey questions as to whether women will outnumber men in any managerial or CEO capacity should not be the objective. I found this difficult to respond to.

    I feel that equality is the real solution to this discrimination problem and not to outnumber. That attitude just reverses the discrimination. Is not the answer to this problem simply equality in position, pay and respect, regardless of gender?

  • Well folks,

    It just goes to show you that we do love to talk about gender! 0ne of life’s most fascinating topics. After reading the first 20 comments I just hope I’m not the only one reading them all, because the full picture is a full picture – way better than I can write in my self prescribed one-page RFL column and richer than what is fascinating data from a survey that had to be short!

    Perhaps I should have written what I usually do when I write this type of column – written that I know I am generalizing. The ideal is ALWAYS always – by morality and sheer logic – to treat people equally. Treat people as individuals and not as members of any group. However, sometimes in order to free ourselves to do just that, we have to become aware of the filters – those our families, societies, even ancestors have baked into our conscious and unconscious minds. I’m kidding myself if I pretend I’m treating an African-American or a gay man in a color or gender-blind way, if my unconscious (and my community) have made me see them as “colored” or “homo” before I have even consciously thought. So, the point of generalizing is to become aware.

    I’m surprised that some people seem shocked that women in general are more relational. As girls my 4 sisters nearly constantly talked about relationships – boys, girls, groups, small groups, etc. Boys were more about doing, acting, competing. Are they all that way, and all girls all relational? Of course not, but that is the general tendency.

    I loved what Joni Golden wrote about the challenges an opportunities that we face culturally. I “grieved” for a father who, while facing death, had next to no emotional tools to talk, to cry, to rail against cancer’s sea of troubles. I feel blessed to live in a world of work that feels more “feminine” – as I experienced the feminine growing up – than masculine. I am glad my girls can be assertive if not aggressive and not scorned or marginalized for not “acting like a lady.”

    I will work to share the data from the survey, because I sense it will be helpful to see what 700 or 800 people think – broken down some by gender and age. So we sense what’s out there.

    I think it’s great – neither feminine nor masculine – to listen to the lyrics and the music (including the frustration, sadness, hope, and even a little anger with me and the ideas), as we ask how to be fully human, and fully male or fully female. What a great opportunity. The bottom line is to help everyone lead with their best self, as Katherine Crowley suggested, on the many issues that matter so much to us all.


  • A very timely question. In the recently published “Womenomics”, Katty Kay of the BBC and Claire Shipman of Good Morning America examine this issue. It’s worth checking out!

  • Before the term Consensus Management was coined in the ’80’s, many educators referred to this style as Women’s Management.

  • This is good food for thought but:

    – yikes dan- your male circle sound like knuckle draggers, ya really need to get out more.

    “I wonder will males adapt? Can we intentionally evolve? Or will the culture (led by the strong demands of women) simply realize that women are just more reliable – less distracted, contentious, egoistic, and (one of our dirty male secrets) less vindictive?”

    I’m not sold that being a woman (or man) is synonymous with being a great leader. Leadership is a personal choice of making consistent prudent moments.

    I’ve experienced both good and bad communicators/leaders of either gender. Obviously gender and personality traits exist but the individual is the most factor not plumbing.

  • Dan,
    I’ve waited to respond to this, because, first of all, I do not want to appear sexist.
    Did your wife put you up to this topic post!!?… 😉

    Anyway, when I think of female leadership, I see immediately three glaring examples;
    Nancy Pelosi…..egregious at best. Tells us we must lessen our carbon footprint, yet flies a 757 akin to Air Force 1 back and forth to San Francisco WEEKLY. She is absolutely part of the problem, not the solution.
    Rep. Waters, an African-American legislator from SoCal. She is dumber than her constituents, in my unabashed opinion (I’m absolutely not a racist) and must have gotten the job through affirmative action principles with promises of expansive welfare programs.
    ex-governor Palin……thank God she is not the current VP…..

    that said, when is the real change going to start happening?….the fiscal conservative mindset, elimination of lobbyist influence peddling, et al. When will Barney Franks and Chris Dodd be held accountable for the mortgage/banking crisis? There is so much wrong in Washington, and it is not related to gender. I am looking forward to seeing 2010 come around, so we can vote the monopoly out of power, before the USA becomes the USSA…..yielding to the one world currency and one world order.

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