Photo credit: Clif Grim

We’ve just heard that for the first time there are more U.S. women Olympians than male Olympians. Women have continued to make significant progress in all aspects of our society. One way to understand this progress is to look very precisely at the ways women are accepted in our culture. Edgar Schein, notable in the field of organizational development, has a wonderful model that identifies three layers of organizational culture: (1) artifacts, (2) espoused beliefs and values, and (3) underlying assumptions. While each layer is more difficult to uncover, the deeper you go, the more intrinsic the ideas are to the organization’s beliefs and corresponding actions.

I’d like to propose a corresponding set of layers for women’s roles in an organization: (1) Pinking the Organization, (2) Empowering Women, and (3) Embracing the Feminine.

  • “Pinking the Organization” is about the artifacts an organization uses to appear welcoming to women, from the trivial — such as how women’s bathrooms are outfitted — to the more serious issues such as family-friendly benefits. In organizations at this level, there is an awareness that women are needed and effort is made to ensure appropriate accommodations. Men also benefit from this, for instance via time off for births, flexible work conditions, and an increased focus on communication.
  • “Empowering Women” is the next level; beliefs about the value of women are turned into formal action. There is real energy around enabling women to be successful. Companies promote and mentor women because they’ve recognized how much value they get from the skills and knowledge women bring, seeing empowered women as good for business and the bottom line. Enthusiasm at this level is genuine: women are encouraged, promoted, and mentored to succeed. Women appear at all levels of management in this organization, with some rising stars running major areas.
  • “Embracing the Feminine” is a much more transformational level. Beyond enabling individual women, it’s about enabling a feminine culture. This requires questioning and, if needed, changing the prevalent business model. Instead of masculine values of win-lose, the focus is on win-win. The organization solves conflict through negotiation, is relationship-oriented, and places a high value on people. Whereas in “Empowering Women” women compete on equal footing with men in the existing organizational model, “Embracing the Feminine” encourages both men and women to solve new problems with new behaviors.

How would you assess your organization?

We’d be interested in hearing.

 

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