The Other Lens: Being ‘Gender neutral’ is being MALE Two steps you can take to be a better leader of women

14th September 2015

Posted In: The Topic
Gender neutral

This month my column is for men. I love men. I think they are fabulous and I want to address them.

A very frustrated, highly capable, ex-COO for a Fortune 500 and Ph.D. in psychology friend, declared to me this week: “being ‘gender neutral’ is being MALE”. I roared laughing. She was so spot-on; it was hilarious, right up there in the top rankings of the ‘sad but true’.

So if you are a man and a feminist, and I know and adore lots of them – in fact I think that the majority of men, who feminist women love, as husbands, boyfriends, friends, brothers, fathers, uncles, colleagues, partners, are themselves feminists. You can’t love a woman, truly love a woman, as in – want what she chooses for her – and not be a feminist.

Words: Jennifer Kenny

So if you are a man and a feminist – what do you DO? What do you DO at work? How do you support the woman who loves you, be she your mother, sister, wife, partner, lover, friend, daughter, aunt, granny, by supporting her public identity in the form of ALL other women at work?


1. Don’t pat yourself on the back for being ‘gender neutral’

Don’t pat yourself on the back for being ‘gender neutral’, that is like patting yourself on the back for tying your shoelaces – it was cool when you were four – but you are past that now.

Being gender neutral is – as my colleague, Sinead, declared – being male. Why?

Because being gender neutral is tantamount to saying – I’ll pretend that you are the same as me and I will try to treat you the same. Well, let me let you off the hook – we are not the same. You don’t need to treat us as if we are. You do need to pay us the same and offer us equal opportunities (but you want to do that anyway because you do believe in equality).

As I said in my June column “Having conflated legal equality with sameness we have missed out on a huge global leadership enhancement opportunity.” So don’t fall into that trap.


2. Go one step further – it’s fun – really it’s fun!

If you accept that we are different but equal and you refuse to conflate equality with sameness, then you are much more likely to ask yourself: What is different? What do my female work colleagues bring to the table that is different from what I bring? How can I value that? Measure that? Support that? And how will that make me a better leader/manager/advocate/human being?

When a woman on your team is talking very passionately and earnestly about something that you just don’t get – it’s not that you’re stupid – you simply don’t get it. Ask yourself: Is she seeing something that I am not? Do women ‘do’ perception differently than I do?

Let’s look at just one quality here (more in other columns and in my book).

The dictionary defines perception as the ability to organize, identify, and interpret sensory information in order to represent and understand the environment. Well if we accept that we are different, then we pick up on different sensory information.

Think of perception as the balancing factor to the male compartmentalisation. As a man you are great at compartmentalising issues. (Lots of women are too since we have had to learn how to be really good at it). That can be a huge help, but sometimes it’s a hindrance, since you can sometimes overlook implications or consequences and that can be seen as taking unnecessary risks, not listening or not paying attention.

Many women, on the other hand, are joining dots, all the time, seeing connections, implications, ramifications and impact where you are not. Learn to recognise when they are doing it. Learn to be able to understand it and leverage it. Help them amplify it. It will help you be a better leader and manager.

I define perception as: The ability to perceive the interconnectedness and the impact of a project/work/plan/strategy with other problems/issues/opportunities in the company/customer base/world.

As Jane Fraser, Chief Executive Officer U.S. Consumer & Commercial Banking and CitiMortgage says: “Women are better at seeing what I call ‘Collateral Impact’. It makes them very valuable in strategy.”

Put on a new lens and let me know what you see.


Jennifer Kenny is a speaker, writer and organizational transformation consultant. @WMBMagazine contributor, Board Member @GWLN, Fan of @theelders. Passionate Irishwoman, living in The Big Durian. You can find her @jenniferlkenny or She is writing a book about Amplifying Leadership: How understanding differences amplifies capability.