Boys Rules, Girls Lose – Women at Work

My two daughters are now in college and have put their toes in the working-world with summer jobs. As they’ve grown older, they’ve heard their parent’s advice about women in the workforce.

This post is not advice nor is it a recommendation of what you should do. It’s simply my interpretation of what I observed watching my daughters grow up. Our circumstances were unique, times have changed, and your conclusions and opinions will most certainly differ.

Gender Differences
Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s when women were struggling against inequality in jobs, pay, etc., my wife and I came into parenthood with an unconscious bias that gender differences were mostly cultural. So how we raised our kids was an unintended science experiment.

When our two girls were toddlers, my wife started dressing them in overalls, and consciously bought them trucks and “boy toys” to play with along with dolls. We were both surprised and bemused to see them ignore the trucks and cars and prefer to play house. A bit later, our biggest eye-opener was when our younger daughter started asking for the “pretty pink dresses” instead of the overalls. (Given they didn’t watch TV, we ruled that out as a major role in their choices.) We started to believe that perhaps there was some hard-wiring about gender.

Boys With Sticks
As our kids reached grade school, the next lesson was watching them at play. I remember hiking with my girls and two 8-year old boys. When we stopped for lunch, the boys found sticks and immediately began a sword fight. When they tired of that, the boys chased each other and wrestled until they were exhausted. The girls, finding their pile of sticks, began building something together and telling each other stories. The suggestion of “why don’t you guys try each others games?” was met with utter 8-year old disdain. I realized I was looking at something – competition versus collaboration – that also seemed hard-wired. (Competition versus collaboration is my shorthand for a much longer set of gender-linked behaviors.)

Boys Rules, Girls Lose
When I entered the business world, I quickly found that office politics was just an older version of boys with sticks. The testosterone level was higher, and the game was more like musical-chairs with winners and losers until there was a single person on top. As a guy I didn’t need a rulebook to understand the game; there was a hierarchy, it was competitive, I win you lose.

It took me awhile but I realized that implicitly that advancement in corporations was unconsciously constructed around how men interact with each other. And unless they consciously work at it, most companies are not set up for collaboration.

As I grew older I realized that women in the workplace around me were having a harder time than the guys. They’d all come from college equally ambitious, but only after a few years, something different was happening to their careers.

Over time, I observed women who succeeded in the business world (as defined by their interest in moving up the hierarchy) headed in one of four career directions:

  1. They chose departments within corporations where collaboration was an asset like Public Relations, HR, customer service, etc.
  2. They set up their own companies to provide services and ran their own companies collaboratively.
  3. They opted out of the workplace and raised a family, returning later.
  4. They figured out the “boys rules” and followed them (having to work harder and smarter to prove that they were.)

Understand There Are Rules – And They’re Not Yours
When my girls started to play soccer, I used to remind them, “Make sure the people on the field aren’t carrying sticks because if they’re playing field hockey while you’re playing soccer, you’re going to get hurt.” As they got older, they understood I wasn’t only talking about sports but that I was trying to teach them how to figure out the rules of any game they were about to play.  And that included the workplace.

My advice to our daughters about women in the workplace has been pretty simple:

  • The language of business is about winners and losers. Bosses who read Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” as a guide to business strategy or “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun” are unlikely to create a culture of collaboration.
  • There are implicit rules of competition and collaboration in companies.  It’s not that anyone is hiding a secret rulebook; it’s just that no one has articulated the rules.
  • In most companies men set these rules. Again, nothing secret here, but men don’t realize that they behave and think differently. They don’t have to explain the rules to other men so it never occurs to them to explain the rules to women.
  • As women, they will be expected to perform to boys rules as defined in their workplace: This means they need to spend the time understanding what the rules are in their company and industry. If they don’t, they will find others less competent but more adept at playing the game getting promoted instead of them.
  • Women can be equally competitive if they desire. It’s not a question of competency. Or a skill only boys have. If they want to succeed by competing they can. They just have to learn the rules and practice them.
  • Find mentors then become one. In every organization or industry there’s someone who’s figured out the rules. Seek them out and know what they know. By the time you do, it’s your turn to mentor someone else.
  • Collaboration can make you a stronger competitor. The irony is that organizations which collaborate are more effective competitors. When they reach a position of authority, use their instincts to build a fearsome organization/company.
  • If they prefer to collaborate and don’t want to play by boy’s rules, they need to understand what their career choices are. There are plenty of other ways to be a productive member of society other than a position on a corporate org chart.
  • Understanding the rules and career options doesn’t mean the rules are right or they have to accept them as the only career choices.  They can make change happen if they so desire. But they need to understand the personal costs of doing so.
  • Some find the idea of gender differences uncomfortable. Having fought to have men and women be treated equally, discovering that there may be gender specific hard-wiring for behavior sets up cognitive dissonance. Some simply won’t accept that there are workplace gender differences.
  • I may be wrong. Perhaps I misunderstood what I’ve seen or that time has changed the workplace significantly. Take this advice as a working hypothesis and see if it matches your experience.

Time will tell whether we gave our daughters good advice.

Listen to the post here: Download the Podcast here

51 Responses

  1. Makes a very thoughtful read, Steve. Wouldn’t change the way I compete / set rules, but it is good to be reminded that women do not see the world the same way as men do.

  2. Awesome

  3. Professor Blank, you are absolutely right. My two daughters are 2 and 4 have never played with sticks they way boys do. They are interested in role playing and communicating with people. My advice to them will be to understand how the workplace works and what they want to do in life early on. Great post!

  4. You’re not wrong. I have three young children – two daughters and a son – and the gender differences couldn’t be more stereotypical.

    My viewpoint is very similar to yours; the only restrictions on women are what they place on themselves or allow others to place on them. But women _prefer_ to work differently from men. And in a world of individuals, where the women want to collaborate and the men want to compete, the men will get more notice and more accolades.

    There was a study where elementary school teachers were watched carefully for gender bias. The teachers were chosen because they said they tried hard not to be biased. But the researchers found the males got more attention from every teacher. It wasn’t that they preferred the boys, it was that the boys literally demanded attention while the girls would fade into the background.

    What this says to me, is that the best environment for teaching boys and girls is to separate them in classes until the girls are old enough to have developed a sense of self-confidence, self-worth and a strong sense of social justice.

  5. Professor Blank, as always great insight. I believe the characteristics of gender are on a spectrum. I grew up in a family of 14 children, I was 13th, a girl born behind 2 boys. I picked up the sticks at a very early age b/c I wanted to belong. But I wanted to organize coordinated attacks to be more effective. So there was competition and collaboration.

    The corporate world has been interesting because I love the competition but don’t feel really fed unless it also includes collaboration. I quit swimming at an early age in exchange for soccer and basketball because teams sports were more collaborative.

    We’re all on a spectrum and that makes us all unique in our approach to work and life. Our ability to see this from others perspectives is so critical to our happiness – thanks for sharing.

  6. Suzette Haden Elgin is good on how to interpret male behaviour from a female perspective, in ‘ The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense at Work’. (And probably more in ‘Genderspeak’, but I haven’t read that). she’s still blogging at age 74 at

  7. The world (aka the United States) has changed since the ’60s when Mom’s controlled what roles their daughters could aspire to as adults. Now, my wife knows (female) Nurses who own medical practices where Doctor’s work for them. Recent research shows that while boys may sword fight with sticks at an early age, girls fight (bully) with words and social pecking order sticks (as early as 1st grade and continuing through H.S.) My wife sees the same stuff at her hospital. So, I’m not worried about physical toughness. I concentrate on building confidence and mental toughness in both my (B&G) kids. So, when they find a role as adults they aspire to, find interesting and rewarding they can achieve success, cross chasms of adversity, and chase their dreams without worrying about what the other “guy” or “gal” thinks.

    Great thought provoking article — again (and again, and …)

  8. I’ve read two incredibly insightful books by a neuroendocrinologist named Louann Brizendine who explains in geek-a-licious detail the hormones that guide many of the differences between (general) male and female behavior, interaction, and problem-solving. The books are
    The Female Brain: and The Male Brain:

    Rather than the usual pop-psychology, these works go into great detail on the actual chemical reactions that tend to influence our choices. They are great reads and wholly substantiate your hypotheses in this post.

  9. You’ve never worked with nurses or the like, have you? While individually they can be very caring people, there’s a lot of combative politicking in the nursing world.

    I am male, but I’ve worked in otherwise all-female hospital departments and it’s been so bad that you have to steel yourself before you enter for the day. Currently I work in an all-male-except-for-one software company and there’s no scoring off each other and heaps of constructive collaboration. i’ve also worked in mixed environments and found that individual variation is much greater than gender variation. It seems to me that it’s more confirmation bias than anything else when these “boys fight, girls socialise” articles come up.

  10. It’s not men vs women. It’s capitalism. Capitalism is competition. And because for men competition is (in general) more natural to a men than it is to a women, they feel better in place in the business world.

    That’s it. Everything else you write (‘men make the rules’) are simply derivaties of the workings of capitalism.

    • I’m not sure how competing always makes you more money than collaborating.

      I’m a huge fan of win/win deals. Rather than focusing on crushing my competition, I focus on building relationships with symbiotic partners that naturally makes me stronger than my competition.

      I love capitalism and I LOVE MAKING MONEY.

  11. You make a good point. Corporate hives are all about competition and that is difficult for most women (and some men).

    Finding a company with an atmosphere of collaboration is difficult, but your best bet is a smaller company without the “I have 8 different bosses” syndrome. Be warned, of course, that as such companies become more successful, they usually also grow in size and evolve into a competitive place…You have to be ready to move on to the next small company when your current workplace gets too big.

  12. You might find this transcript of a talk by Dr. Roy Baumeister interesting. He has a pretty good theory for explaining gender differences, and it is really relevant to the workplace differences you describe.

  13. Very interesting. Do you have an example of “boys” competing in the work place vs. collaborating? What kind of behavior does that actually translate to? What do men do to compete that women don’t? Obviously I’m asking this question because I’m a woman 🙂

  14. Nice to see this post. This conversation is really moving around! I recently referenced the books from my career climb on TechCruch and AVC, “Games Mother Never Taught You” and “Hardball for Women” in which the concepts you either learned or observed were nicely detailed. Specifically the rules.

    As we continue the conversation I look forward your contribution to the conversation based on your experience. AVC is a good place to share them. Smart, thoughtful, meaningful people who speak up with respect for others ideas. Hope to see you there in the mix, contributing your observations and experiences.

    Kelley Boyd – @msksboyd

  15. Your story explains very well why they are more men who win, but also, why there are as many men who are winners than men who a complete losers, in both cases far beyond what most women can expect. Both types took risk, both deserve the outcome in most cases, but talking about inequality is missing half the picture.
    How many men earn more than what most women do? How many men are in jail for drug or arms trafficking, white-collar fraud, on the street, destroyed by a massive bankruptcy? I don’t think this is because women use less drug, or are less protected by guns. Those are not idle questions: actually try to figure out how many “winers”, “losers” or other instead of keeping anecdotal cases of looking that the very end-tail of the distribution.

  16. The comment by ‘v’ begins to get closer to the truth. Anyone who thinks women don’t compete is only looking at the surface. Collaboration is the default starting point, but once the going gets rough, competition begins. It’s not like going at it with swords, however. Perhaps it could be called ‘subset collaboration’, or simply, cliques. Women will seek alliances with other like-minded women but will tend to do it offline from official meetings, then the stronger clique will prevail. This behavior begins in childhood too; watch how the ‘popular’ girls set the agenda.

    My daughter rides at a local stable (where most of the riders are women) and the in-group/out-group politicking makes my head spin.

  17. Good article, but I would also throw into the mix that women have their own rules and when the office is mostly women–it is the men who have to play by these unarticulated rules. I have often wondered how these rules come about and why they are perpetuated… by both sexes.

  18. Thanks for a really interesting post.

    As that rare breed of female software developer, I’ve spent most of my career working almost entirely with men and gotten used to a very competitive type of environment. I always thought that’s just how things were, until I started getting on some projects that had other women and thinking “WOW, it’s so refreshing to have a different perspective brought to the table.”

    I really hope we’ll get more women in tech (despite the recent press about how there are so few women in tech startups!) to shake things up and change those rules a bit… I think we almost always improve when we can bring in new perspectives.

    There’s an interesting book I just picked up called Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power Will Transform Our World for the Better. Interesting notion… 🙂

  19. As a driven, competitive woman who’s comfortable “playing by the rules”, I’ve noticed that it’s much easier to succeed in doing so when working on a male-dominated team. In my experience of being the only woman on several teams, I’ve found that I could assimilate easily and succeed quickly – because I played by the rules and perhaps because I brought subtle shades of other more typically female traits to the table. I also found that I was entrusted with larger challenges and opportunities for growth in male dominated environments. I’ve been fortunate to work under several men who have been excited to see a woman excel…I imagine/hope that this isn’t very rare.

    However, when other women are involved, particularly at a leadership level, it often seems to get more complicated and more difficult to succeed. Men appear to be able to continue with the same rules, but women have to add a heavy dose of collaborative behavior and/or work even harder to prove themselves. The women (in leadership) I’ve encountered tend to fall into one or both of the following categories:

    1. Collaboration-oriented women who expect the same from other women but not men.

    2. Other competitive women who compete more aggressively against other women (i.e. you have to work even harder to win them over and prove yourself). Perhaps because they are used to being the top woman? This is not necessarily a bad thing since it makes you work harder.

    In both cases, women are holding other women back in one way or another. While there are clearly exceptions (and I know of several), this been my general observation. If I had to chose between working under a man or woman (of equal character and competence), I would chose a man.

  20. Steve, I think that you have some good points here. Your observations mesh up with a lot of psychology studies. Girls are encouraged to collaborate while boys are encouraged to compete. It makes sense given the whole estrogen/testosterone thing that our hormones make each gender a bit predisposed to be inclined toward those respective roles.

    However, you really turn me off with your anecdotal evidence and the implication that girls are hard wired to (a) like “pretty pink” things and (b) not want to beat each other with sticks.

    Just because your girls didn’t watch TV doesn’t mean they didn’t pick this stuff up from their culture. They picked it up at school and from their playmates whose parents didn’t keep their girls away from TV or provide them with trucks. The places your girls picked up their ideas about pink are absolutely endless.

    Furthermore, @v and @introspeck make valid points. Why did your girls scorn you when you suggested they do boy things? Because they had been introduced to the female hierarchy. And they had picked up on the fact that walking away to play with the boys, or showing anything but disdain for boys’ games, would be a politically chancy move for them. They’d lose their change to integrate with & gain status with the rest of the girls.

    Girls compete. Viciously. Just not quite the same way as boys.

    I maintain it’s “mostly” indoctrination. But I’m sure biology supports it, to a degree.

    • I totally agree with “anonymous” here. There are different ways to compete. Implying that your daughters are not competitive because they don’t want to beat each other with sticks really isn’t what you mean, is it?

      Some women do compete viciously. Some compete smartly. Some compete by having developed a keen focus to block out all the catcalling.

      My favorite sport is one design sailboat racing. You may think that competitiveness would be strength, size, and peeing off the side of the boat. But, in my experience, strategy, working well under pressure, and ability to maintain balance in choppy seas over a bucket can beat the former. Quite regularly actually.

      Anything is possible and as long as they enjoy it – they should do it. Good luck to your girls!

      Katherine Warman Kern

  21. Good post and comments. Thanks to all!

    As 1 of 5 siblings (4 boys), father of 2 girls and 1 boy, a 20 year veteran of the software industry and as a practicing boy myself, this is an area of great interest to me – for my daughters and for my son and for the people who work with/for me.

    Understanding the rules and who sets them is always step 1. Deciding whether or not you’d like to live/work by those rules is step 2.


    To Ted Wise’s point: see where my daughters are fortunate enough to attend.

  22. Excellent article! I recommend three books related to this topic: 1) The Male Mind at Work, by Deborah Swiss; 2) In The Company of Women, by Patrica Heim and Susan Murphy; and 3) Talking From 9 to 5, by Deborah Tannen.

    Tannen’s book is especially valuable to male managers/supervisors who are willing to open their minds to the fact that their own unconscious biases and ways of understanding may prevent them from accurately assessing the worth and contributions of their subordinates. One example: women tend to quietly prevent problems from happening in the first place, which doesn’t get noticed or rewarded (this can happen to men too), while it is not uncommon for aggressive younger men to ignore the problem until it erupts as a crisis, then jump in loudly as the “savior”, earning accolades for resolving a crisis that didn’t have to happen at all. Unless a manager is alert to the fact that maybe the crisis should have been headed off, it’s easy to be very impressed by these “saviors” and maybe give them undeserved reward and advancement over the quieter contributors.

  23. Steve – I don’t agree with this post. Are you saying males in general don’t collaborate and that women in general are not competitive with each other? C’mon. I know and do business with organizations with mostly women in it and I’ve never seen so much “stick fighting”. Also, let’s say I’m a male in a female-run organization. Do I stick-fight or collaborate or both to get ahead? The problem is that when people try to socially engineer their families and workplaces because of percieved differences or inequities they end up with unintended consequences and results that usually create more issues. The key is to simply hire the best PERSON for the job. Competition is good because any successful manager will see the person for what they are and will look at mostly their results. I”ve hired and worked closely with both women and men and have witnessed an excellent mix of stick fighting and collaboration between genders and within genders to get ahead.

    As a fellow entrepreneur, I’ve also recently started a blog and invite you to read that and comment

  24. This is terrific information and so carefully constructed. What a great job. I’ll be recommending this to my clients. As a woman who has spent most of my working life in very small, small and medium sized business environments I’ve seen how the horizon looked and learned early on I wasn’t “wired” to play by the “rules”. So now I’m self-employed feeling confident I can create my own reality and find my niche and minimize the number of rules I need to play by – it works for me!

    Thank you!


  25. Good post. I’ll be sending it to my step-daughters.

    Reminds me of a study I heard about where they gave animals (monkeys I think) a combination of typical “boy” toys and typical “girl” toys. Sure enough, the males tended to play more with the “boy” toys and the females with the “girl” toys.

    Their hypothesis was that the kinds of motions females preferred to do (stroking and cuddling) was more conducive to play with the softer “girl” toys and the males liked hitting and throwing type motions and were more attracted to the “boy” toys for that.

    Regardless of whether you want to live in the world as it is, or change it – it helps to see it for what it is.

    And I second the recommendation for Deborah Tannen’s work.

  26. Thank you for this thoughtful post. I agree with a lot of what you say, but I also want to point out that there are many men and women who fit into the opposite norm. I was struck when I read “Women Don’t Ask” where most of the studies that were presented showed 70% of women behaved in some way, and 70% of men behaved the opposite way, but there was consistently 20-30% of men and women who trended differently.

    As the mother of a boy child, I think about this a lot. Every opportunity that I have fought for, I also want to be available to him. He shouldn’t feel he needs to compete to get ahead, whether or not that is his instinctive way of working. I have also met plenty of men who have challenged me that what I used to argue as gender discrimination was really a bias against certain types of working styles. I think businesses today would be stronger if it was easier for people to excel who had different work styles.

  27. […] Boys Rules, Girls Lose – Women at Work My two daughters are now in college and have put their toes in the working-world with summer jobs. As they’ve grown […] […]

  28. I’m not sure where I fit here. I’ve always played with boys and boys games. I’ve understood the ‘rules’ without a single explanation. I guess I was (am?) a tom boy. What I didn’t understand was all the girls/women and how complicated everything was in that world. In the boys world it was easy: keep up, or don’t bother. In the girls world, there were so many levels that were made so complex for no reason, no one even knew where to start, because no matter what was said/done, someone would run out of the room in tears. How can this be collaborative?

    Maybe the majority of my time has been spent with other girls/women who happen to be like this, and my luck isn’t so great…I dunno. I know I don’t speak for all of us 🙂 But, I’m a 40 year old woman, and I STILL don’t get girls rules! lol!

  29. Steve it seems the gender entrepreneurial issue is very current at the moment which implies some shift happening in the collective? I have been recently doing video interviews with venture capitalists & women entrepreneurs as regards women entrepreneurs challenges sourcing funding. You can check out the most recent with Jason Mendelson, Foundry Group

  30. Mr. Blank’s thinks that his girls may be hard-wired to act traditionally feminine when they ask for pink dresses even though his family chose to dress them in androgynous overalls, but that doesn’t take into account his girls were socialized outside of the home: they watched TV at their friends house, they looked at magazines, they read fiction and history which explained to them that males dominate females in society, they saw what clothes the popular girls wore (pretty dresses), so apparently his girls showed traditional feminine behavior mostly because they were socialized, not because of genetics.

    • Actually, Mr. Blank explicitly pointed out that his girls DIDN’T watch TV, yet somehow they picked the frilly dresses.

      Nancy, I am guessing that you do not have kids. I’m a huge feminist and used to think the same thing you do – nurture vs. nature.

      But then I had kids, and I’m telling you they fall into these typical-male / typical-female patterns INCREDIBLY early. At less than one year of age! And at that age, my kids didn’t watch TV, read books, have any concept of “popularity”, etc.

      I love the way that you summarily conclude in your last sentence that it was all socialization and not genetics. The fact is, you don’t know. It’s likely a combination of both.

  31. “Hardball for women” that Kelley already mentioned above is a very insightful and useful book on the same topic as your blog post.

  32. This is an awesome article. I will take the wise messages given here and incorporate them while raising my daughters (age 10 and 8).

    The only thing I don’t like about this article – the title. It should read ‘ How to raise your daughters for corporate success’.


  33. Thank goodness you raised your children in a cultural vacuum so that you could clearly demonstrate the hardwired differences between males and females.

    … Oh wait.

  34. A friend who knows about the work I do helping women strategically develop their careers in male-dominated fields sent me this link and it is right on the money in terms of who gets credit for what at work and what doesn’t.

    When I wrote “Beyond the Boys’ Club” I often spoke with men, who like you, didn’t see the ways organisations choose people for leadership roles as a huge issue until they were raising amazing daughters…and saw that they had fantastic skills, but not ones that would make them naturally “dominant” in a traditional workplace.

    They were also starting to realise that maybe the women they had were as useful, if not more so, for many of the day to day challenges of working with others, and so “fixing the women” to be more like the men is never going to work, nor should that be the aim.

  35. Women and men are different, this is a fact and is proven by many experiments, done with animals and humans, like giving the dolls and trucks to chimpanzees and studding their brain scans,or taking blood samples. Here is what we know:

    On average, male and females have very different hormones levels, males having 5x or 4x times(like testosterone) more of some hormones than women and women 4x or 5x more of others like those related to touch, caring.

    There is some variability and spectrum both on women and men with respect to other members of the same sex, but very small compared with the huge intersex differences.

    There is always special cases, like this:

    …that people will use to justify her dissonance to their prejudices (people have to be equal because they want it to be so).

    Some people have a physiological sex, and “another different sex in their brain”. It seems to be related to problems in the transcription of the sex from the genes to the brain in a critical time when fetus develop. This people use to became transsexual when become adults. Is growing fast. It could be pill use(artificial hormones that goes to water supplies)or PET plastic(transparent bottles) bisphenol A, both or other consequences of industrial progress.

    Male and female brain works different, we know it using PET,MRI, fMRI,MEG brain scans.

    This is data and facts, now my personal experience, subjective facts:

    IMHO Women are as competitive as men, but in a different way. I had(and have) a lot of women friends in my life. It is not as physical as men, but social-language-feelings external subtle wars. Internally it could be very intense, but we men can’t really understand it(filled with little details). I have seen two women hugging and kissing and then each telling me privately about the other: “What a whore!!” and “How fake she is!” respectively. When a man thinks bad about you, you use to know it.

    I found a lot of women really liking working for men because they are really “simple”, “clear”, what they say is what they think. On the other side, I have seen companies made by women to become a family, witch I liked but other guys hated because they really didn’t like the relationship-social part.

  36. Oh, I forget, if you have to take risk and face the unknown things like testosterone helps a lot.

    My question to you Steve: Is necessary taking risks on startups?

  37. It’s amazing how this debate has really caught on.

  38. […] Rich Slowly, o tym dlaczego liczą się czyny, a nie słowa – Na koniec Steve Blank o odwiecznej wojnie (i różnicach) płci w […]

  39. It may be genetics, but it’s quite a lot to assume all that from your own children. My own sister was never into playing with dolls, and was always a tomboy growing up. Can’t say for sure where she sites on the Competitor/Collaborator scale now, though. I think someone above mentioned a “slider” that everyone has, I imagine that’s closer to the truth.

    Very interesting post, though.

  40. So true! And I say that as I leave a company with a lot of politics to start my own business. I’m doing it because I miss working collaboratively. I am tired of trying to make my way up when I can make it happen for myself!

  41. Steve,

    I think you missed the mark assuming that your wonderful girls represent the gender.

    As to options for women, at least one other options for women to succeed is to join a mid-sized organization that appreciates the perspectives and values that women bring to the table.

  42. Hi Steve,
    Interesting post. As a writer and psychotherapist, I come from a world not even mentioned in your choices for productive members of society. I will not, however, be dismayed by that omission.

    I would say overall your advice to your children is honest and will be helpful to them, but is somewhat too black and white from a psychological perspective. In the general population, it seems to me that inate competitiveness and cooperation lies along a continuum similar to gender preference . In this case, assuming you had or could create an instrument that measures the trait accurately, statistically holding constant the environmental piece (and maybe the age factor, since males generally mellow after mid life and women become more dominant), I’d say most males would fall into the more competitive range and most females fall into the more cooperative range. My hypothesis would be that you’d end up with two bell curves with very long overlapping tales in the middle (ie females who are more competitive and males who are less competitive.), and outliers at either end. There is no question that males are inately different than females in many traits, personality and brain. For example, the size of the cerebellum is GENERALLY much larger for females, There is NO difference in cognitive capacity, however.

    Here’s a nice related quote from something I found at the “brain guru’s” website, “95% of the population has one of three brain types: female brain type (empathizing), male brain type (systemizing), or balanced brain type (empathizing/systemizing). About 2.5% have the extreme male brain type and, presumably, about 2.5% have the extreme female brain type.” But there’s also this: “The combined attributes of males and females is an unbeatable asset.” My guess is that the more competitive leaning females AND males go into (and stay in) business in the first place. Others, like me, find living in a less competitive world (and in my case studying human relationships) more satisfying than driving competitively for “success” as it is measured by business people. Success is measured very differently in other fields.

    As one achievement oriented human being to another, I send you a kiss.

  43. Steve – Your post is music to my ears. I’d like to share the music on NOW Leadership – a blog carnival that features posts advocating for the integration of the feminine and the masculine in leadership practices. If you are interested in finding out more about NOW Leadership please contact me at

  44. I notice that you place this post under the family/career label. Why is that? Is there something about women that brings up the concept of ‘family’ in your mind?

  45. Your post really resonated with me.

    I was a child of the 60’s and 70’s, with a mother who redefined herself during that era, changing from the Betty Draper mold of the 50’s to Bella Abzug, nearly overnight. The civil rights movement and women’s liberation catalyzed the change.

    Once her cultural makeover was complete, I was convinced there was nothing left for me, her daughter, to do besides achieve. After all, she made it my responsibility to carry forward those beliefs that “Ms” equaled “Mr.” Your statement “Some find the idea of gender differences uncomfortable” hit home the most.

    And so I competed – first through Title 9 and then for jobs – as if the world was my oyster. There was no such thing as sexual harassment, only an empty seat at a desk I wanted to get or keep. Mentors? Few women proceeded me in the roles I chose, so who could show me how to be a mentor? I was making things up as I went along.

    Every choice I made, and probably more the ones I didn’t make, led me to where I am today. I could have chosen to play more like boys more often, and I could have been more aware that the trail I was leaving was one that other women might follow.

    For a post like this, from the father of daughters, I offer kudos to you for understanding this topic so well and providing the kind of counsel to them that will make them better equipped to succeed.

  46. Great post!

    Furthermore, I think there is a real advantage for women who can turn what have traditionally been considered gender challenges on their ear. While men are just as capable of learning the skills that come more easily to the opposite gender, women generally have a greater incentive in the current work environment.

  47. […] – As an appendix, and on another topic, compare Justin Wolfers’s naive view on genders with Steve Blank’s informed viewpoint. […]

Leave a Reply