Oh, dear, God. According to a columnist at the Financial Times, an economy in which value comes from innovation, culture, and creativity must necessarily reflect a deeper trend: the feminization of business.
The whole vocabulary of business has changed. Bosses who were once gruff, tough, macho, dominant and bold are now expected to be open, approachable, caring, persuasive and kind. Command-and-control systems of management, with their rigid hierarchies and strict rules, have given way to flexibility, collaboration and teamwork. We hear a lot less about risk, conflict and conquest and a lot more about ethics, values and responsibility.
In short, business has become feminised. I mean this not in the sense that women have seized the reins of power – they are still lamentably under-represented in the upper tiers of management – but in the sense that stereotypically female values are in the ascendant and stereotypically male ones are in decline. These days bad companies are from Mars, good companies are from Venus.
But, wait, it gets worse.
[B]rands have replaced factories as companies’ most important assets. A high-quality product is just the price of entry to a market. Beyond that, what companies are really selling is the thing they can use to differentiate their products from those of their competitors: the set of emotions, ideas and beliefs that their brands convey.
With this in mind, it is easy to see why business is becoming feminised. Companies no longer sell products to the public simply on the basis of rational attributes such as functionality and utility. Emotion is now just as important – perhaps even more so. The most successful brands and companies are those that establish a relationship with consumers based on communicating with them, understanding their needs and empathising with them.
It is hard to imagine that anyone in the educated world imagines that the world divides so neatly, that it is women who are diplomatic, collaborative, creative, and really only women who are capable of the building and managing of brands.
I have a theory about people who think about gender in these mutually exclusive terms (that some human qualities are really feminine qualities). Its not a very sophisticated theory, but then, hey, thanks to the FT it is, so far, not a very sophisticated debate.
My theory is that this theory is most attractive to those who went to all-boys, boarding schools. From a boarding school, the world of gender probably looks very mutually exclusive indeed.
It is fashionable to chortle over this kind of thing, because guys are just great big Labrador puppies without a trace of intellectual finesse or creativity. But hang on there, guv. The moment we indulge ourselves in this kind of nonsense we declare ourselves, the men among us, at any rate, as unfit for marketing office.
Heres the simple anthropological truth of the matter. None of the higher intellectual or creative abilities is gender specific. I dont care what Larry says. Until we have had several generations of bias free socialization, we are merely whistling Dixie.
And speaking of Dixie, let us remember that it was in not so long ago not unusual to hear people insist that there existed essential differences between ethnic groups, nationalities, classes, regions, and religions. (And do I have to remind anyone that the FT essay bears more than a little resemblance to 20th century treatments of the Jewish influence on German culture?) Gender is merely the last hold out of that demonic inclination to suppose that some aspects of humanness take up residence only or mostly in this or that corner of the demographic patch work.
And if historical perspective doesnt settle this issue, perhaps you, the male reader, will at least take the self interested point of view. If the essayist for the FT is correct, it is time for a lot of the people who care about branding to give over to those with the right gender credentials.
Anonymous. 2005. Macho business muscle gives itself a feminine
Makeover. Financial Times. May 17, 2005. Registration and subscription required.
Tom Guarriello here, for pointing out the FT essay. I think Tom takes more kindly to the essay. I will let you know if he enters the lists in its defense.
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