Thursday, February 9, 2012

Women and Power; the subject of research and reflection

By Joseph Nye, Project Syndicate, from CNN website, February 8, 2012

Editor's Note: Joseph Nye is a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, is a professor at Harvard and the author of The Future of Power. For more on Nye, visit Project Syndicate or follow it on Facebook and Twitter. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Joseph Nye.
Would the world be more peaceful if women were in charge? A challenging new book by the Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker says that the answer is “yes.”
In The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker presents data showing that human violence, while still very much with us today, has been gradually declining. Moreover, he says, “over the long sweep of history, women have been and will be a pacifying force. Traditional war is a man’s game: tribal women never band together to raid neighboring villages.” As mothers, women have evolutionary incentives to maintain peaceful conditions in which to nurture their offspring and ensure that their genes survive into the next generation.
Skeptics immediately reply that women have not made war simply because they have rarely been in power. If they were empowered as leaders, the conditions of an anarchic world would force them to make the same bellicose decisions that men do. Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, and Indira Gandhi were powerful women; all of them led their countries to war.
But it is also true that these women rose to leadership by playing according to the political rules of “a man’s world.” It was their success in conforming to male values that enabled their rise to leadership in the first place. In a world in which women held a proportionate share (one-half) of leadership positions, they might behave differently in power.
So we are left with the broader question: does gender really matter in leadership? In terms of stereotypes, various psychological studies show that men gravitate to the hard power of command, while women are collaborative and intuitively understand the soft power of attraction and persuasion. Americans tend to describe leadership with tough male stereotypes, but recent leadership studies show increased success for what was once considered a “feminine style.”
In information-based societies, networks are replacing hierarchies, and knowledge workers are less deferential. Management in a wide range of organizations is changing in the direction of “shared leadership,” and “distributed leadership,” with leaders in the center of a circle rather than atop a pyramid. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said that he had to “coddle” his employees.
Even the military faces these changes. In the United States, the Pentagon says that Army drillmasters do “less shouting at everyone,” because today’s generation responds better to instructors who play “a more counseling-type role.” Military success against terrorists and counterinsurgents requires soldiers to win hearts and minds, not just break buildings and bodies.
Former US President George W. Bush once described his role as “the decider,” but there is much more to modern leadership than that. Modern leaders must be able to use networks, to collaborate, and to encourage participation. Women’s non-hierarchical style and relational skills fit a leadership need in the new world of knowledge-based organizations and groups that men, on average, are less well prepared to meet.
In the past, when women fought their way to the top of organizations, they often had to adopt a “masculine style,” violating the broader social norm of female “niceness.” Now, however, with the information revolution and democratization demanding more participatory leadership, the “feminine style” is becoming a path to more effective leadership. In order to lead successfully, men will not only have to value this style in their women colleagues, but will also have to master the same skills.
That is a trend, not (yet) a fact. Women still lag in leadership positions, holding only 5% of top corporate positions and a minority of positions in elected legislatures (just 16% in the US, for example, compared to 45% in Sweden). One study of the 1,941 rulers of independent countries during the twentieth century found only 27 women, roughly half of whom came to power as widows or daughters of a male ruler. Less than 1% of twentieth-century rulers were women who gained power on their own.
So, given the new conventional wisdom in leadership studies that entering the information age means entering a woman’s world, why are women not doing better?
Lack of experience, primary caregiver responsibilities, bargaining style, and plain old discrimination all help to explain the gender gap. Traditional career paths, and the cultural norms that constructed and reinforced them, simply have not enabled women to gain the skills required for top leadership positions in many organizational contexts.
Research shows that even in democratic societies, women face a higher social risk than men when attempting to negotiate for career-related resources such as compensation. Women are generally not well integrated into male networks that dominate organizations, and gender stereotypes still hamper women who try to overcome such barriers.
This bias is beginning to break down in information-based societies, but it is a mistake to identify the new type of leadership we need in an information age simply as “a woman’s world.” Even positive stereotypes are bad for women, men, and effective leadership.
Leaders should be viewed less in terms of heroic command than as encouraging participation throughout an organization, group, country, or network. Questions of appropriate style – when to use hard and soft skills – are equally relevant for men and women, and should not be clouded by traditional gender stereotypes. In some circumstances, men will need to act more “like women”; in others, women will need to be more “like men.”
The key choices about war and peace in our future will depend not on gender, but on how leaders combine hard- and soft-power skills to produce smart strategies. Both men and women will make those decisions. But Pinker is probably correct when he notes that the parts of the world that lag in the decline of violence are also the parts that lag in the empowerment of women.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Joseph Nye.
First: let's acknowledge that men and women both have an unconscious, in which elements of the opposite gender are found, as Carl Jung reminds us, and as many universities refuse to teach, because there is no "empirical evidence" to support his "theory.
Second: to stereotype men and women based on the traditional use of "hard" power versus "soft" power is to impose another of those "male" perceptions of the real man, who "can perform" and the dysfunctional man who can't and that does not serve either. There is no doubt that the evidence of physical abuse in domestic relationships points dramatically to men as the perpetrators. However, to fail to recognize the female capacity and their deployment of all of their enmity in those disputes is to tip the reality on its "ear". We need to define "pain" more broadly, if we are to right the balance. For example, while withholding intimacy (by a woman) leaves no visible sign of pain, the internal scars, for the man, are deep and lasting. Similarly, a comment from a mother or a spouse to the effect that "you are no good" when the son and the husband "live" to hear the precise opposite from mother or spouse, is devastating, and again lasting.
Third: if we are to bring a "reality check" to this question, over the last three or four decades, we have to note that there has been a significant "retreat" of traditional masculinity on the part of many western men, fearful of charges of harrassment, while women on the other hand have surged in both self-confidence, self-esteem and political confidence. And while these trends are not finished, and the pendulum will likely continue to swing in botb directions over longer periods of time, the current context does "influence" our research, as does the name of the institution in which it is conducted. Harvard being, after all, the litmus test for political correctness in North America, but hardly representative of cultural norms in the broader culture. For example, the definition of "depression" in the DSM-IV, the manual of psychological diseases and conditions, is derived from exclusively femaly patients and bears no imprint of the definition and its symptoms from a male perspective.
Lastly,what is really disturbing in the question of gender relations, around the world, is the apparent rejection of the female, even to the point of contempt, refusal to permit education, refusal to permit full citizenship and the continual dominance and need for control among the fundamentalists in Christianity, Judaism and in Islam.
There seems to be some need for men to manipulate and control the female children, to prevent their sliding into another stereotype, the "dirty" woman, who might bring dishonour on the family, and thereby onto the community, within the strictly "religious" culture. In China, there is indisputable evidence that female babies are rejected, and in the west there is growing evidence of abortion if and when an expecting mother discovers, through an ultrasound test, that her baby is female.
In Kingston, we recently read the reports of a horrendous murder of three young women by their father, brother and the father's second wife, in a polygamous marriage. Shortly thereafter, some 30 Imams of the Islamic religion announced a "fatwah" condemning the murders, as "not part of Islam." However, similar fatwah's on other countries, for the same purpose have produced no positive result.
In Israel, there is a fundamentalist sect, part of Judaism, who refuses to permit women to ride on the buses of public transit.
In North America, groups like "Real Women" emerge from fundamentalist, evangelical, protestant churches, in protest against the feminism of the last few decades. They accept the principle from a literal reading of scripture that the woman is to "serve" her husband, and in the words of one "Family Values" Christian fundamentalist, in Colorado, "A ship can have only one captain and that is the man, the head of the family."
In the Roman Catholic church, women are denied permission to train and serve as priests, "because all of Jesus disciples were men" if that kind of logic were imposed by the history of the church, in order to preserve "clergy" control to men.
This question is a serious issue, around the globe, and minor research that catches the public media's attention, as do many figures about the rise of women in corporate hierarchies, does little, if anything, to change the kind of treatment that is both dangerous and skewed toward the maintainence of some antique religious principle, no matter whether practised in a synagogue, a mosque or a sanctuary.
Unless and until the religious fanatics, fundamentalists and zealots among all major world religions, and those in power in countries like China accept the full blessing of the female gender, and unless and until the advertising agencies stop using the female body and female seductive wiles to sell more products, women will continue to live under a cloud of male faux superiority or at least male delusion of power.
Ask any man who is the final decision maker in the house on major issues, in North America at least, and you will likely find it is the woman. And any man who doesn't know this, and respect this "veto" will have a long and painful marriage, no matter whether his partner is a stay-at-home mother, or a corporate CEO.

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