WANTED: FEMININITY AT THE TOP (M/F)

Jochanan Eynikel

1 in 4. That’s how many top jobs are held by women in Belgium. Too few, as 50 CEOs and business executives found last month. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, they together called for more gender diversity at the top of the business world. That call came none too early. According to the European startup-monitor ,only 11% of the start-ups in Belgium in 2016 were started by a woman. This figure is around 15% in the rest of Europe. So there is still work to be done to make the organisation of the future more feminine.

Yin and Yang

The justified concern for more women at the top also invites us to reflect on the importance of more femininity in the business world. Femininity is not the same as being female. The thousand-year-old Chinese concepts of yin and yang make this clear. Yin refers to the feminine aspect, the receiving, the dark, the passive. Yang to the masculine aspect, the light, the giving, the active.

The Western idea of duality tends to view these notions hierarchically as being positive against negative, left versus right. That is a disservice to the deeper meaning of these terms. Yin and Yang are equivalent, complementary concepts that make each other possible. Each one needs the other. No day without night, no soft without hard, no quiet without loud. The opposites form a unit, and not an either-or duality.

The business world also benefits from a healthy balance of values: effort versus relaxation, stability versus flexibility, freedom versus control, etc. In this respect, organisations not only need more women, but also sufficient femininity. Sufficient softness to sometimes accompany hard decisions. Think of a restructuring that has become necessary: a dismissal is always a difficult situation, but the communication and guidance surrounding this can make a big difference.

Focussing on female values

To be absolutely clear: this need for femininity does not necessarily have to come from women. It’s not a question of only men being decisive and only women being caring. It’s a matter of whether there is a good balance between male and female values in an organisation. Both can come from men as well as women.

For example, the male CEOs of companies who are known for their people-oriented business practices often use terms that you could describe as ‘yin’. In his interview with the online platform  silence is not an option Wouter Torfs called for more gentleness in the business world. Joost Callens , the CEO of Durabrik, which has won various awards for its personnel policy, makes an appeal for vulnerable leadership. Heidi Van Herweghe, the HR manager at Boss Paints, explained the winning of the HR Ambassador award 2016 as being due to “the care for our hard workers” with, among other things, more flexible working hours and support in work-life initiatives (Jobat 5/11/2016).

The companies mentioned are all successful companies. It shows that focussing on female values pays off. Let the focus on more women at the top also become a plea for more of a yin-yang balance in the boardrooms.