Changing the Male Blueprint / Gender Paradigm

How organisations can reset the “gender paradigm”.

How to change the Male Blueprint / Gender Paradigm

What is the Male Blueprint / Gender Paradigm? And what can we do to change it? 

The World Economic Forum (WEF) published an article in March 2024 stating that the “Male Blueprint” (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2024/03/the-male-blueprint-what-is-it-and-how-does-it-stop-women-from-reaching-the-c-suite/) is a key reason for why women don’t reach the C-suite.

Although a great idea, this article is significantly lacking in depth of explanation and practical application. Indeed, for me, the name itself suggests that change is impossible – that because it is a blueprint, it is somehow embedded in the culture of organisations. 

But with a career in change management, I know that organisations are constantly adapting to their environment and can also consciously change if they want to. But culture change is hard and takes time and leaders need a great reason to embark on that journey. 

So I prefer ‘gender paradigm’ as a term to describe what the WEF calls ‘to a set of characteristics, behaviours and expectations traditionally associated with leadership roles and attributed to masculinity’. 

This article is not the place to describe the many reasons why women don’t reach the C-suite – there are so many that I could write a PhD on them (and many already have!). Or the place to highlight the many reasons, research and evidence as to why organisations should embrace DEI – again extensively written about by people far better qualified than me.

What I’d like to focus on is how organisations can reset the “gender paradigm” by highlighting practical steps that they can take to encourage, support and advance skillsets, knowledge and experience that represents both their employees and their customers. 

This is not a push for DEI awareness or unconscious bias training. They have a place - actually, I’m not sure that they do but I wouldn’t want to take on a whole industry - but training does have an important role to play in reinforcing a conscious programme of change.

Here are my top tips for changing the existing gender paradigm in your organisation.

1.    De-masculinise the language used to assess, hire and promote employees. 

Language is powerful and sets the tone for a culture, no more so than in the many talent related processes and programmes that organisations have – everything from performance appraisal templates and objective examples, descriptors of performance ratings, succession planning / high potential / promotion process criteria, and even job description / person specification / job advert language. 

If the language you use in your talent programmes is overtly ‘masculine’ i.e. it talks about ‘leading from the front’, being ‘assertive’ and ‘decisive’, emphasising ‘competitiveness’ and ‘confidence’, then you are probably going to alienate women who will be more inclined to have doubts about their ability, place a stronger emphasis on team success and on sharing credit. 

Even very simple changes e.g. updating “what did you achieve” to “what did your team achieve” can make a significant difference to how processes are viewed by women.

 2.    Assess existing leadership templates and update them based on the latest research

While the WEF highlights ‘traditional views’ on leadership, we only have to look at the extensive research on leadership e.g. authentic and transformational styles, since the 1970’s to know that such views have been consigned to the dustbin of history.

What the research shows is that a more inclusive, team orientated approach is more successful, more often than any other style. Do your own research, work out what is the best approach(es) for your organisation and update your templates, training, documentation etc. to reflect that style(s). 

3.    Measure and hold leaders accountable

“What gets measured gets done” is always true. Measure diversity in your organisation, include inclusion in your staff surveys, set goals and make leaders accountable for their success.

4.    Increase the ways that employees can be heard 

Employee voice is simply the process of allowing employees to speak up and have their ideas, experience and knowledge be heard by leaders. The more that employees feel heard, the more engaged they will be. Increasing the channels that employees can use to be heard – moving from the performance appraisal process to your organisation’s intranet, to dedicated social media channels and leadership Q&A sessions are all ways that will encourage your diverse employee base to become more comfortable and willing to apply for leadership roles. 

5.    Encourage advocates to come forward 

We all need friends and organisations can encourage women to put themselves forward by encouraging other employees, men and women, to be advocates for diversity. Creating an advocate programme can be a simple, cost-effective approach requiring communication, some training and setting clear expectations.

6.    Implement a coaching and mentoring programme

I would say this wouldn’t I! But the evidence is also very clear – coaches can improve the productivity of leaders and potential leaders by up to 75%. Coaching and mentoring offer different things to employees and for maximum benefit, I would usually recommend that coaches are external to the organisation as the independence allows the individual to truly open up. Mentoring however, can be delivered by both internal and external people. 

 7.    Actively ‘promote’ diversity 

I’m not a great fan of setting mandatory diversity targets, they have a place when an organisation is first setting out on this journey, but can quickly breed resentment and doubt as to the competence of the individuals appointed (e.g. “they only got that job because of their ….”). 

Instead, actively highlighting (and celebrating) examples of ‘diverse’ behaviours, especially from role models such as senior leaders, is a powerful way changing an organisations culture. These can include day to day behaviours such as male leaders who leave on time to supporting external organisations who promote diversity, and everything in between. 

While these are my top tips for how organisations can reset the gender paradigm, what are some of your experiences?   
 

Contact me if you want to reset the gender paradigm in your organisation. 

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