7 So-Called “Feminine” Traits That All Genders Can Embrace as Their Superpowers

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Ideas around gender have come a long way since the 1970s when Sandra Bem published her study categorizing the following traits as masculine: taking the lead and being aggressive, competitive, dominant, self-reliant, and athletic (tell that to the women who won 60% of the medals in this year’s Tokyo Olympics). The following traits were described as feminine: being yielding, expressing compassion, affection, sympathy, warmth… Oh, and also being “childlike!”

To be fair, Bem’s study was focused on studying androgyny, and she later argued that behavior should not be attributed along gender lines.

Since “feminine” traits are in fact, really human traits, have they typically been rewarded when exhibited? Given that only 7.4% of all Fortune 500 CEOs are women (and that’s an “all-time high”), the answer would appear to be nope. The good news is that it is changing for the better, as there were absolutely zero female CEOs on the Fortune 500 list in 1995!

Given this, is it any wonder why stereotypical masculine traits in the workplace have been welcomed, encouraged, and given the proverbial high five/chest bump, whereas feminine traits aren’t commonly leveraged to their full superpower bad*ssedness?

But there is hope! The conversation around gender and diversity is changing the landscape. There has never been a better time to leverage your “feminine” superpowers—no matter how you identify. The point is the traits that have traditionally been overlooked or undervalued may be one of your greatest assets—your diamond in the raw. 

So, I asked six top leaders a question you too can ask yourself. Have a think and then share your answer in the comments below!

What trait that is traditionally described as “feminine” do you use most as a leader? How have you used it as one of your superpowers?

          1.   Eye Contact

“My ability to engage with people by holding eye contact and deeply listening allows me to quickly connect with a diverse set of people,” says Denise Malecki, a Partner at PwC. This kind of engagement fosters trusting relationships that she believes are imperative to leading a team. “Leaders need to demonstrate an interest in who people are, focusing on relationships first and avoiding purely transactional interactions. Maintaining eye contact is a powerful way to do just that.” I’m looking at you, readers, virtually, and hoping you’re getting what Denise is putting down

          2.  Vulnerability

Executive Vice President at Big Speak, Ken Sterling, shared with me that “when I’m faced with situations that have the potential to result in major conflict, I’ve found that a more vulnerable approach can be disarming and helps keep the conversation focused on solutions rather than who is right or wrong.” In my better moments, I work to slow down, be curious, and come from a place of empathy and wanting to “cross the bridge.” If more leaders can consider this approach, we may be able to solve a lot of challenges! I think this is something we can try outside of work too—I will let my partner know to work on it.

          3.  Parenthood

Amy Heymans, Chief Experience Officer of Leading Change, is no novice at juggling multiple schedules. As a parent of three, she calls herself a “logistical mastermind” when it comes to managing time. “This Tetris-like pattern-matching ability enables me to foresee challenges and proactively find solutions that work for everyone,” she says, which makes prioritizing competing demands in the workplace a breeze. Honing this attitude with her family has parlayed into greater creative possibilities and plans that keep her employees and clients thriving. Sounds like I need me some Amy Heymans-type magic, to foresee that my toddler is about to electrocute herself…again.

          4.  Listening

It’s no surprise that Andrés Hoyos-Gomez, a Personal Storytelling Trainer at Lead by Conversation, finds that listening allows him to make better decisions and create better strategies—ones that are more informed and even, with a stronger buy-in from his team or clients. “More informed, because I get a better grasp of the context and multiple perspectives for the complex issues we face. And with better buy-in, because the more I listen, the more WE (as opposed to I/ME) are able to find a solution that we believe in and are motivated to pursue.” 

          5.  Empathy

Connecting on a human level helps members of a team feel valued. “Like many women, I naturally empathize with people and help to forge connections among them,” says Lygeia Ricciardi, Founder and CEO of AdaRose. “Whether the people you connect with are within your organization or beyond, using empathy to build bridges between people in diverse roles is a winning strategy.” Humans connecting with humans—imagine that!  

          6.  Authenticity

“I read a long time ago that most CEOs DON’T know the answer (or what to do) 75% of the time but never actually admit it,” says Michael Sharkey, Founder of Your Podcast Coach. He thinks it’s absolutely okay to say, “I don’t know.” (What a revelation!) Michael also says that “by being honest and authentic with my team, I have found that we have a deeper trust and communication on all subjects and come up with better solutions!” 

          7.  Intuition

Patricia Bradley, US Chief Commercial Officer, Digital Health, Health Technology at Huma harnesses her intuition for effective leadership. Trusting her gut instinct when it comes to reading people and situations helps to assess engagement or lack thereof. “[Intuition] has helped me as a leader to know when to probe deeper and bring to the surface issues that, if unaddressed, could lead to problems. Never undervalue your intuition, or any other ‘feminine’ superpower, when it comes to making key leadership decisions.” I never will, Patricia, and I hope our readers won’t either!

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