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Toward Gender Diversity: Men and Women are Equal, but not the Same

Dr. Tom Tonkin

Principal, Thought Leadership & Advisory Services

The gender diversity discussion continues. It also appears that everyone, men and women, want to solve the inequality problem. I sincerely believe that we do; however, before we can solve this problem, we must first must define the problem.

You see, I believe we have a fundamental, semantic problem that needs exposure before proceeding. Men and women are equal, but not the same.

Rethinking Our Conversations About Equality

The idea of 'sameness' suggests that two or more people (or things) are identical, while equality addresses the fact that two or more people (or things) are identical in quantity, size, degree, or value. In the case of gender equality, we are talking about men and women being identical in value. Yet, it is fair to say that men and women are not the same, identical. We certainly are not physically the same. We are not emotionally the same and many other areas. We are different, but we are equal in value.

In discussion, we often intermingle these two terms, equality and ’sameness’. When women hear men say that women are not the same, they most likely hear that they are not equal, therefore hearing that they are less valued. Men, on the other hand, hear from women that they want to be treated as equal, however, filtering that are 'the same'. The cycle goes on, over and over. We are not in synch with our language. To exacerbate the issue, women believe that they need to be 'the same' to compete with men. They start to behave in unnatural ways (un feminine or more masculine) to keep up with men. Some male leaders support this action as it is easier to deal with another person, male or female, that is similar to them. After all, we like to hang out with people that are the same as we are. Again, this sends out mixed signals to those that are trying to 'play the game'.

Gendered Differences in Networking

Specifically connecting this notion to that of networking, brings about a renewed discussion. Women and men will network differently (not the same), but can achieve an ’equal’ result. This is best measured based on an outcome and not process; based on results and not effort. If you have followed any of the networking gurus, you know that networking should be intentional, with purpose, to achieve a goal. If we connect our networking to a desired outcome, we will see that both men and women can achieve via different methods.

In a recent study that I personally conducted and is in the midst of being published, I uncovered ten essential dimensions to networking. This same study concluded that the outcome of these ten dimensions were not gender sensitive, however, the road to results did suggest gender differences. One of these dimensions was the level of diversity in one's network: The more diverse the network, the greater is its associated effectiveness to achieving the desired outcome. This diversity came in two flavors, demographic and professional. Demographic diversity suggests categories such as gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic factors, while professional diversity suggests categories such as vertical industry (i.e. Healthcare), levels (i.e. CEO), and tenure. One of the main reasons to network is to achieve greater levels of performance, whether for ourselves or that of the company. If that is the case, then let’s put this idea to the test.

For example, in another study that I conducted and published[1] found that a woman’s locus of control is statistically significantly lower than a man’s LOC. Specifically, women believe that they have less control over their circumstances than men. Given this premise, women tend to network in smaller groups and seek other women that have the same value systems as they do; however, men are shallower in their networking and see the practice of networking as a way of getting ahead and aren’t too concerned with matching value systems, therefore are more successful when networking in larger conferences.

Embracing Gender Diversity to Drive Innovation

One of the last bastions of competitive advantage is that of innovation. Everett Rogers, well known innovation expert and author of the seminal book, The Diffusion of Innovation, suggests that there are two essential and critical ingredients to successful innovation, diversity of thinking, and group communications. At face value, this appears to be a simple task, however, with further examination, we find this to be much more difficult to attain. The challenge here is that people that are diverse in thinking do not 'hang out' together since we, as humans, have a tendency to fraternize with people like ourselves. We tend to bond with those that are like ourselves and it’s that same bonding that gives us great group communications. Conversely, groups that are highly diverse are challenged to communicate by the simple reason that they are diverse, they have different value systems, backgrounds and aspirations. Bottom line, in general, diverse groups have poor communications and groups that communicate well have little diversity.

Many leaders, both male and female, are missing a tremendous opportunity for greater performance in their organizations, by not nurturing diversity. Leaders must embrace and encourage diversity by creating a platform and infrastructure to nurture and grow diversity. It’s fair to state that the first and most powerful area for diversification is that of gender diversity. Gender diversity starts with the understanding that men and women are equal in value, but not the same.

I look forward to your comments and interactions below. You may also connect with via LinkedIn or Twitter, @DrTomTonkin.

Looking to improve diversity, equity and inclusion and belonging in your workplace? Tune into Season 3 of HR Labs, where we’re having conversations with experts on the subject of DEIB in the workplace.

[1] Tonkin, T., (2013). The Effects of Locus of Control and Gender on Implicit Leadership Perception. International Leadership Association (ILA) Women and Leadership Affinity Group Inaugural Conference, 2013 Conference Proceedings Pacific Grove, CA

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