Do you want to win in a “masculinity contest culture”?

by | Oct 22, 2018 | Blog | 0 comments

How do you define “face time” in your organization?

If you started your career any time last century, “face time” is probably a cultural touchstone. It refers to “the time spent at one’s place of employment especially beyond normal work hours” based on the Merriam Webster dictionary.

If you joined the workforce more recently and especially if you’re a digital native, you know “face time” as the Apple app for making video calls.

The College of Charleston seniors I’m mentoring this semester told me in our first face-to-face meeting that Facetime is their go-to app if they need to talk to someone virtually rather than text.

Their rationale: Why use the phone when you can Facetime? A refreshing response, indeed.

Considering though that we’re reading Dan Coyle’s new book The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, for their Organizational Behavior and Change class, I felt obligated to describe how “face time” works in some offices today.

The students were incredulous. Why deliberately stay at work extra hours when you can be mobile? 

It’s a valid question, especially considering Coyle’s point of view. He maintains that we’ve been approaching culture the wrong way. It’s something you build, not something that is.

In his book, Coyle offers sound culture-building strategies, based on his interviews with leaders of high-performing teams and the latest in the social sciences plus neuroscience. (For more about this, see my blog post Why you need safety for a high-performing team.)

However, building culture in a new team is a night and day difference compared to working in a long-established organizational culture, as I explained to the students.

Unless they choose their employer carefully after school, they could find themselves in a toxic organizational culture.  

At the 2018 NeuroLeadership Summit in New York in early October, Dr. Peter Glick of Lawrence University shared brand-new research with us about organizational norms of North America work cultures.

Based on what he and his fellow researchers uncovered, for years leaders have been creating a “masculinity contest culture.” The organizational norms are anchored in a “winner take all” competition that appeals to masculine behavior. However, the norms are masked and legitimized as “how we do business here.”

So, if you ever feel like you’re walking into a gladiator arena when you arrive at work, your instincts are accurate.

According to Dr. Glick, if you want to get ahead in this “winner take all” culture, you’re expected to play by these four main rules:

1.Show no weaknesses. This translates into don’t admit to any mistakes. Have a stiff upper lip. Show no loving and caring emotions.

2.Put work first. Your family and friends are less important than your work and your employer. Don’t let any obligations interfere with work.

3.Demonstrate strength and stamina. It’s more important to work hard than smart. Plus, long hours show you have the endurance to produce. Practice face time, which also demonstrates to superiors and others your dedication.

4.Compete as if it’s a “dog-eat-dog” world and only the fittest survive. You need to practice ruthless internal competition, which means willingly destroying your opposition inside the organization. (Note that most well-socialized dogs now follow a different credo. If they can’t eat it, play with it, or pee on it, they leave it alone.)

This “masculinity contest culture” is bad for all humans, men and women alike. According to Dr. Glick, it encourages across-the-board work misconduct as well as unhealthy habits, professionally and personally.

Women suffer a double bind. First, they’re usually not comfortable viewing themselves as “woman warriors.” And second, if they fight, they’re vilified by other women and men.

Changing the environment requires deep cultural change, especially since the current system supports individuals, primarily men, who are clever at moving up the organization. Once they reach the top, they’re generally comfortable keeping the status quo and not being inclusive.

Nevertheless, we may have reached a tipping point. The tolerance for toxic cultures is waning. Plus, many millennials and college students are showing they’re willing to speak up and change the ground rules and the playing field.

As the semester progresses, I’ll share more insights from the students and my work, including my collaborations with Mercedes Martin & Company.

Based on our research of Being Seen, Heard and Connected, we’re integrating inclusion, change leadership, and leadership to support executives to improve their organizational culture. The goal is high-performing organizations that are healthier, more innovative and sustainable.

Meanwhile, if you’re in a masculinity contest culture, think about how you want to play.


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