Edgecumbe Consulting



Freezing eggs and 'leaning in' - Have organisations gone too far in their push for gender diversity?

18-November-2014 0:00
in General
by Sophie Coates

Last month saw announcements from both Apple and Facebook that women are now being given the option to have their eggs frozen in an effort to attract and retain more women on to their staff in order to achieve a gender diverse workforce. Whilst many organisations have gone down slightly more conventional routes in an effort to retain talent and achieve gender diversity, such as offering women training and coaching, Apple and Facebook are stepping into new territory.  They are putting a very bold message out there; we want women in our organisation and we will go to great lengths to attract and keep them there.


This is not the only gender diversity campaign to come out of Facebook.  Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is leading a movement which encourages women to adopt more masculine styles of leadership – she calls it ‘leaning in’- in order to be employed and promoted. Of course, with the majority of leadership positions taken up by men, this leads women to assume that in order to be a leader you must walk like a man and talk like a man.  


At Edgecumbe we are doing some research to investigate this. We are looking at the personality and risk-taking behaviour of female senior leaders. Why? Well, firstly, personality and assessment is what we do. We also have great clients and friends who provide us with access to senior leader populations in order to carry out research - something which much previous research has struggled with, relying on executive and student populations. Our research is measuring the differences between women and men who have made it to the very top of organisations – an area perceived by many as being harder for women to reach. We want to know what, if anything, makes this group of women any different in personality from women in the general population. Also, what makes them different from male senior leaders.


Our study is positioned against a backdrop of research that points to the increased emergence and value of more feminine styles of leadership in today’s organisations. What strikes us is that this idea is directly contradicted by the Facebook concept of ‘leaning in’. ‘Transformational leadership’ describes leadership that is more participative, inclusive and democratic and has received continued attention as the leadership style of choice for some sectors in contemporary work.


Are women who show stereotypically more ‘masculine’ personality traits, such as assertiveness and risk-taking, more likely to make it to senior leader positions by ‘leaning in’? Alternatively, has the changing nature of work meant that in reality more ‘feminine’ styles of leadership are being recognised and it is instead ‘feminine’ traits that are being recruited for?


We will let you know what we find out from our research, about ‘leaning in’… not freezing eggs.  Connect with us on Twitter and Linkedin to follow this research.