5 Signs Your Company Culture is Too Feminine

Patty Beach and Roger Toennis believe that some companies are too culturally feminine. Healthy companies blend both masculine and feminine aspects in their culture.

This is a follow-up post to 5 Signs Your Company Is Too Masculine.

This article is part 2 of a 3 part series to help you determine if your company is too masculine, too feminine or a healthy blend of both. As male/female partners working in leadership and gender, we believe that companies with a sensible blend of masculine and feminine energy outperform those that don’t. When companies have a good balance of masculine and feminine strengths, they are better able to serve all customers, and employees of every gender thrive. However, many companies, even those with good gender diversity, end up with a culture that is either too masculine or too feminine.

We assert that stereotypes (men are masculine, women are feminine) undermine gender balance while archetypes (the Masculine and the Feminine applies to all) support gender balance. A good first step is to understand the Masculine and Feminine as archetypal energies that are accessible no matter what gender you are.

Companies with a strongly feminine culture have many desirable qualities. Such companies often have strong cultures focused on being inclusive, organic and considerate of others. However, some of those companies also resist masculine ways of operating such as creating clear accountability and enforcing rules and policies. This resistance is based in fear that employees may feel hurt and left out. Most American businesses lean towards the Masculine, yet many newer, mission-driven and governmental organizations lean strongly towards a more feminine way of operating.

If you suspect that your company or organization is out of balance, the first step is to determine the nature of your company’s leaning. A company may lean strongly toward the feminine side, and depending on the nature of the work this may be appropriate. However, it’s important that this leaning doesn’t completely shut down masculine energy. Some organizations are just too feminine for their own good. Here are 5 signs that your company may be unbalanced in an overly feminine way:

  • Everyone is included in every decision. Feminine energy focuses on creating a cohesive family environment. Feminine companies are often quite egalitarian. But when companies are too feminine the decision process bogs down when everyone has to be included in every decision.   While including others in decisions provides diverse opinions and fresh ideas, this approach can also be inefficient and problematic. This is especially true if those included in the decision making process aren’t informed enough to make an educated recommendation and default to making a choice based on popularity rather than a clear business imperative. Do you have to take a poll for every decision? Do you have to sit through endless meetings that don’t produce clear outcomes? Do you feel you have to cc everyone on all emails to not exclude anyone? If so, this is a sign your company leans too far toward the feminine.
  • Poor performance lingers. Feminine energy also focuses on taking care of others.   In overly feminine companies poor performers are not challenged to deliver. In some extreme cases you find unspoken policies that people can never be fired unless they do something illegal that puts the company at risk. Often in too feminine companies frustrated managers correct bad performance by doing the work of their direct reports instead of holding them accountable. Mistakes, even when noticed, may go uncorrected due to fears that constructive feedback will result in hurt feelings. Often in overly feminine companies employees are rewarded based on the length of time they hold the job rather than on competency or solid performance. This results in poor performers in positions of leadership and over compensated senior professionals running the company.
  • Just when do we work around here? In a too feminine company rules and policies are fuzzy making it difficult to adhere to guidelines that govern productivity. Rules regarding time are especially disregarded. You often see liberal policies around clocking in and out and taking time off. This also makes it hard to schedule meetings, especially when too many people are needed to make decisions. Meetings often start late and go long to allow time to chat and make sure every opinion is heard. Often too you just see too many meetings, with too many people resulting in no time to do any of the work items generated by all these endless meetings. Often in overly feminine companies a handful of key people very loyal to the mission end up putting in extra time to make up for others who are slacking. These high performers can sometimes get branded as being overzealous “Type A’s”. They may even be warned by their managers to “be more patient” in order to not make others look bad by comparison.
  • Fuzzy accountability. Strongly feminine cultures tend to have a “wait and see” mentality. In those cultures metrics and even clear goals are avoided because they tend to make people feel exposed and vulnerable. When organizations don’t have metrics all outcomes may be viewed as progress, and success is celebrated even when the opposite is true.   In overly feminine companies you also often see uncommitted conversations (conversations about something). Uncommitted conversations often end where no one knows what was decided. What overly feminine cultures lack are committed conversations (conversations for something). In committed conversation people propose solutions, what they are up to and by when. Do you finish meetings confused about what will happen next? Is follow up often lacking?   If yes, this is a sure sign that you are in an overly feminine company that needs some masculine structure.
  • Being “nice” rules. In many overly feminine cultures there is a lot of pressure to be politically correct and “nice”. Political correctness creates a code of how to behave to minimize offending anyone. But this can also have the unintended consequence of preventing full open expression of doubts and reservations that are needed to minimize risks.

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In “nice” cultures diplomacy is valued over being frank. This results in soft conversations that just talk around issues instead of directly addressing issues honestly and openly. When “nice” is the norm you also see a lot of triangulation and gossip. Triangulation occurs when person A has a problem with person B, but instead of speaking to person B directly they go to person C to talk about it with the false hope that person C will help person B make a change. Of course, this approach tends to backfire especially when person B finds out about these “behind their back conversations” and basic trust is broken.

If you are scoring 5 for 5, on these signs, don’t despair, there are solutions. The most obvious one is to hire for gender diversity. But, diversifying the workforce alone is not enough. Overly feminine companies often disenfranchise men and face the real risk of losing ground because they just aren’t competitive enough. Ideally, company leadership intentionally embraces the value proposition of balanced masculine and feminine energy and allows it to be fully expressed by both men and women. In doing so, companies can accelerate movement towards not only a more harmonious workplace, but also a more profitable one.

Photo credit: Vladimir Tronin