and start talking about a better balance between MASCULINE and FEMININE characteristics

For years now plans are being made to get more women in the top positions. Even though new rules and laws have been implemented and stimulation programs have been developed, it seems we are unable to realize this goal. We’ve been so busy with the means to get there that we have forgotten why we want to achieve it: Organisations with a better balance between the masculine and feminine characteristics are much more successful!  
The discussion shouldn’t be about equal positions for men and women, but about the differences between men and women. We have to let go of the gender discussion and focus on the characteristical differences between men and women. A good balance between these characteristics is necessary to survive as an organization in a rapidly changing society with a focus on sustainability and leading a meaningfull live. 


Most of us have been raised by parents who grew up during a time when women and men already had equal rights. Our generation seems to be more willing to let go of the traditional gender roles. For example, nowadays it is normal now for a man to take care of the household and show emotions and for a woman to be very ambitious and materialistic. Our current society has feminine women and men, as well as masculine men and women; there are even people who prefer to be gender-neutral. In this time we shouldn't talk about ‘men’ or ‘women’ but about masculine or feminine. Therefor the discussion shouldn't be about the difficulty for women to achieve top positions but about the fact that feminine characteristics are still undervalued, compared to masculine characteristics and therefore it remains a struggle for feminine managers to reach the top.

Wanting to be feminine but still behaving masculine

Within departments of some organizations you already see an increased flexibility between masculine and feminine characteristics emerging, only to see that the overall organizational structure in which we move around holds us back. For example, more room is created to innovate and experiment but employees are still being judged on hard measurable goals. Providing feedback for continuous improvement is becoming increasingly common and yet the instrument 'performance review' is still used to control whether you are doing it "right". Or new young management teams that lead from the principle of trust, emerge but they still have to deliver project plans with concrete measurable results to their board. Therefore feminine behavior is being discouraged.  But what is ‘masculine’ and what is ‘feminine’?


The difference between masculine and feminine is determined by little differences in our brain and our social environment and big differences in our endocrine system. It is our hormones  that determine how we behave in order to survive and to reproduce. Both sexes produce the same hormones; men just make more of the one hormone and women make more of the other. For this article, when we speak of masculine we are referring to the behaviour that arises because there’s more male hormones being created. When we speak of feminine we mean the behaviour that arises because more female hormones are being created. If we apply this definition of masculinity (MASC) and femininity (FEM) to our work environment, we can identify certain characteristics.

To make it easy, we speak of MASC and FEM. However, it’s important to keep in mind that nobody is only MASC or only FEM. We are all a mix of both.

Some features:
MASC needs a clear hierarchical structure in order to act quickly and effectively. FEM however needs more cooperation and therefore prefers to work in a network structure. MASC is more focused on the end goal and FEM more on the process. MASC is more directive and stronger in decision making. FEM is guided more by intuition and prefers to develop organically. MASC is more competitive whereas FEM goes for cooperation. In conflict situations, MASC often reacts directly and refers to the facts. FEM will quickly proceed to negotiation and seek a win-win situation. MASC focuses more on short-term profits and FEM more on long-term added value.

There is no right or wrong when we look at this division. It's a good thing to recognize the dichotomy so you can assess which skills are needed in which situation.


Many organizations are masculine oriented but it is necessary to have a proper balance between masculine and feminine characteristics. These days, traditional paradigms are shifting and it is slowly becoming more important to be 'healthy' rather that 'wealthy'. Production in terms of quantity is making way for quality as a guiding principle for our growth. New technology makes it possible to share, access and create insights. New organisations use new business strategies which are better balanced. These are brand new principles compared to what we are used to; it is therefore necessary to organize differently. Organisations need to become more network orientated and employees need to start working together and sharing and extending their knowledge. Concepts like trust, transparency and flexibility become the new values.

In the book 'Exponential Organizations', authors Yuri van Geest and Salim Ismail describe which features fast-growing and successful organizations such as Uber, Airbnb and Facebook have in common.

If you look at these characteristics, you will see a good balance between masculine features (e.g., interfaces, dashboards, algorithms) and feminine characteristics (e.g., community & crowd, social, engagement). In addition, they indicate that these organizations are extremely ambitious (MASC) yet they are organized in a very flexible and small manner (FEM).
It’s obvious that the power lies in finding a perfect balance between these different features.


We now know that organisations function better if there is balance between masculine and feminine features. So why is it that we see so few feminine managers? For their book 'The profit of difference', the Dutch writers Eric Koenen and Chris Brinkgreve interviewed several men and women in top positions about masculinity and femininity. It became clear that many organizations are masculine oriented. This means that you have to get through a masculine gate to get to a management position. A (top) manager or (top) director will look for a (top) manager using his/her own frame of reference, which is mainly masculine oriented, and that is certainly not what is needed. In addition, the management roles are being described from a masculine perspective which means that employees with predominantly feminine characteristics often seem unsuitable.

start to value feminine characteristics

It might be difficult to break through the masculine organisational culture. The masculine norms and values are deeply rooted in the behaviour of employees. Things that are not measurable or do not yield concrete results are not seen as valuable in this corporate culture, transparency and disclosure are seen as a sign of weakness and, according to this culture, make organizations vulnerable. To change this, it is necessary that everyone working in an organization is aware of the fact that organizations are managed from a masculine perspective. Current processes, systems and cultural values maintain the dominance of this masculine behaviour. Once we are all aware, there will be room for change, towards better balanced organizations that are ready for our fast changing society.

Implementing the rule that there must be 30% more women in top positions in Dutch organizations only intensified the focus on the – in our opinion  incorrect – idea that women and men should employ the same  positions. While this could ultimately be the result, according to us, it should not be the main reason for gender diversity. According to us, the reason for wanting masculine and feminine diversity within an organisation is that a better balanced organisation is in the interest of the organisation. Only that reason will create the intrinsic motivation to change, and not the fact that there is a quota that needs to be reached.

What is your example showing that your organization wants to be feminine but is still shows masculine behavior?


This article is written by Ilja van den Berg in collaboration with: Janine van OostenCharlotte van der Laag and with the assistance of Brigitte OpelKatja KeucheniusMartine BroekmanHarry KoteyRobert van Oirschot.