Are masculine or feminine traits a better predictor for business and leadership success?

What’s interesting about the concept of masculinity and femininity is that it’s socially constructed based on certain traits and attributes being assigned to certain genders and gender roles. Assessment of masculinity and femininity in 1936 evolved from a study measuring the comparative intelligence of men and women. While it found no evidence that one sex was more intelligent than the other, it began to measure masculinity and femininity based on an ‘attitude interest scale.’ That is, the areas each respective gender scored more highly on than the other were categorised as masculine or feminine. This study had a number of obvious limitations, including failing to consider the influence of social desirability, the spectrum of masculinity and femininity, or those who are considered a-typical.

Yet, despite our understanding of masculinity and femininity comparative to gender roles evolving, much of the perception and gender bias persists today. We have been largely conditioned to emulate manufactured measures, including in business; external expectation continues to impact internal identity.

More recent studies have demonstrated that where we see the most backlash is when gender isn’t coherent with the socially desirable gender role. That is, a man is more feminine (or takes on a typically feminine role) or a woman is more masculine (or takes on a typically masculine role).

For example, while a feminine woman may be described as ‘gentle’ and ‘nurturing’, a feminine man will be described as ‘weak’ and ‘insecure.’ Comparatively, a masculine man may be described as ‘charismatic’ and ‘strong’, a masculine woman will be described as ‘uncaring’ and ‘unattractive.’

As we’ve previously explored our gender biases are not real, but they nonetheless have real impact – including with how we approach business and leadership.

The impact of masculinity and femininity on business/leadership outcomes

The way society perceives the success potential based on gender in business and leadership undoubtedly impacts on self-perception and opportunities. When we examine the reasons for business and leadership failure, however, we see quite clearly that such biases can impact outcomes regardless of gender.

For example, while it’s been widely researched and publicised that men are automatically assumed to be more capable in business and leadership, an expectation of success can lead to failure through complacency just as much as an expectation to fail can. Both lenses impact behaviour, decision making, strategic thinking and commercialisation and are not strictly gender dependent.

To illustrate let’s consider reasons for business and leadership failure:

No market need

Research suggests that 49% of start-ups fail due to no market need for what they offer. The noted contributing leadership behaviours can all be related to ego and include not taking the time to intimately learn about the human experience of the market, reluctance to seek or act on advice/constructive criticism or blindly carrying on despite market feedback.

Those with an expectation to succeed can equally be guilty of these faux pas as those with an expectation to fail. The former may be blindly driven by self-interest and complacency, the latter paralysed by the fear of trying or pivoting. It’s worth also noting that despite this statistic relating to start-ups, there are plenty of profitable businesses ripe for disruption right now for these very same reasons.

Ran out of cash

29% of business failures can be attributed to running out of cash money. The leadership behaviours contributing to this includes over-pricing, under-pricing, over-valuing, underestimating, over-investment, under-investment and premature scaling.

Focusing on profit to the detriment of people can cause a cash drought as much as focusing on people to the detriment of profit can.

Not the right team

23% of business failures are due to not having a high performing team. The perception that you are infallible or a reluctance to hire a team that’s more capable and talented than you can cause a crisis just as much as hiring a team and enduring ongoing performance pain due to lacking the confidence to effectively lead and manage them with authority.

We can see from these examples that qualities traditionally associated with being masculine can be responsible for business and leadership failure as much as those associated with the feminine. When we turn our attention to success factors, the same can absolutely be true. Much like scientific discovery can’t exist without creativity, business and leadership success requires skills, qualities and approaches from both the masculine and feminine realm. At the end of day business is about both money and people.

Business success requires an individual and tailored leadership approach

Both men and women inherently possess masculine and feminine qualities and have the ability to equally experience problems and develop skills from both sides of the coin at any stage of developing a business or personal brand. What this will look like for leaders in reality will be individual and depends on the pain points they are currently experiencing.

If you’re currently at make or break and giving up isn’t an option, please feel free to reach out.

Shevonne Joyce teaches high calibre leaders and personal brands the secrets of how to be the true go-to brand in their industry and create businesses and brands that are as successful on the inside as they appear on the outside. For a confidential conversation, please get in touch.

Shevonne Joyce