The Other Lens: Fixing Women

2nd June 2015

Jennifer Kenny

Many of the gender balance initiatives in corporations and organisations today have initiatives that fall under the umbrella that I call ‘Fixing Women’. They are well meaning, good sounding, well-intentioned initiatives that seek to address issues like:

“Women lack confidence”

“Women need to be more assertive”

“Women need mentors”

“Women are bad at negotiating”

“Women are poor networkers”

Words: Jennifer Kenny

The underlying assumption is that there is something wrong with women. This arrogance lulls us into false thinking that we know what is wrong; that we can ‘fix’ the problem; that we have an answer. Of course, there is something wrong with women if we measure them against an exclusively male standard. The same way that there would be something wrong with men if we measured them against an exclusively female standard.

Once you begin on this path of accepting that there is absolutely nothing wrong with women, or at least accepting that there is nothing more wrong with women than there is with men, then you begin to question strategies that have to do with Fixing Women. Instead we should ask ourselves “How do women display confidence differently than men?” By so doing, we start to engage our brains to develop Gender Intelligence. We begin to open doors to our own understanding. We can choose to look for strength and courage in women. We begin to do something that is a true leadership skill: we challenge each other to be better, to think more creatively, to look for strength where previously we have lulled ourselves into seeing weakness or something that needed to be ‘fixed’.


“Women lack confidence”

Many women manifest confidence differently than men. It’s not better or worse. It is different. Feminine qualities and traits are much more relationship oriented than they are power oriented, particularly power over. It makes sense therefore that women will approach promotions or putting their hands up for major projects not as a challenge or a test or a way to prove themselves but rather as way to continue to build their skills, a way to strengthen their relationships, a way to take care of others, or provide opportunities for those behind them.

So we are unlikely to go in to the bosses’ office and pitch that we are the perfect person for the job. We are more likely to manifest our confidence by assessing if this is what we want. Women are more likely to want to know: Who are the other players on the team? How will you (current boss) interact with or support this role? What is your (current boss) relationship with this other person I may end up working for? Who will be reporting to me and will they be supportive? Do they want me to help them grow? Do my skills fit well with this job such that I will feel appreciated? We won’t necessarily voice all of these but we are constantly gathering data to make these assessments.

We are not immediately making the choice to sacrifice whatever it takes in the name of gaining power, meeting the challenge, or proving ourselves – we are instead confidently assessing if this will support our wellbeing and that of those around us. If this is a challenge we can be successful accomplishing or, are the odds in our favour or stacked against us? Not that we can’t deal with the odds being stacked against us, but we have high standards for harmony and agreement in the workplace and we generally tolerate acrimony and discord less than our male counterparts.

It may seem like women are ‘lacking in confidence’, if we are measured against exclusively male behavioural standards. However, we are simply manifesting confidence in a different way, born from different concerns, desires, and motivations.

So every time you find yourself or your organisation trying to ‘Fix’ women – STOP – catch yourself being arrogant and intellectually lazy and ask yourself a new question based on the much more powerful understanding of Complimentary Leadership. Begin to build your own Gender Intelligence and your own leadership capacity.


Jennifer is a speaker, writer, Leadership Futurist and Wise Leadership coach, @WMBMagazine contributor, Global Women’s Leadership Network Board Member @GWLN, Huge fan of @theelders, Mom and general mad Irishwoman., @jenniferlkenny