Why The World Needs A More Feminine Version Of Success

Our economy is based on domination, not collaboration. If we’re going to stop burning through all our resources, that will need to change.

Before making something new, a smart designer needs to answer a few questions. What is it exactly that we need? Who are the users? What conditions are we designing for? How long do we want it to last?

The answer to these questions forms the design basis—the conditions, needs, and requirements taken into account to create a facility, product, process, or organization. But figuring out which questions to ask isn’t always so easy.

Asking the right set of questions (and giving the right set of answers) can sometimes result in positive innovation and ideas that help us, as a society, to move forward while using less: Think upcycling, cradle to cradle design, and biomimicry. Innovators have successfully applied these new design limits and in some cases generated new insights that have further improved or altered design thinking.

But we can’t afford to play around: What lies before us is a herculean challenge that cannot be tackled one product or process at a time. While specific efforts are vital, they are not sufficient. The effect of years of designing society by asking the wrong questions (and giving bad answers) is cumulative and is degrading our ecosystem, society, and economy.

The real design basis that must be shifted, therefore, is our very definition of success. In a post-WWII drive to create robust economies and move people into the middle class, we accepted a design basis of success as growth and growth as throughput. The design basis of bigger being better is behind the idea of gross domestic product.

The human need that drives that design basis is domination and control. The need to dominate is a masculine trait that’s tied to survival in hostile environments. The trouble is that as the hostile environment changed, the ethos of dominance did not. Now we are overfed and under-hunted and upside down on everything from our mortgages to our health because of our need to dominate by always having more.

The female "counter" need is community and collaboration, driven by a desire to protect vulnerable children who are only safe when the entire community is caring for them. A shift to a more balanced design basis that embodies feminine principles would mean moving from dominance to harmony, from exclusivity to inclusivity, and from individual success to community success.

We are social animals. It is how we are designed. And our imposition of a design basis that has separated us from each other, our planet, and the future creates distress throughout the entire system. Infusing the feminine back into our design basis will create new outcomes in everything from the meaning of profit to the creation of products. If we begin to measure success not through how we dominate but instead by how we create harmony, we will encourage behaviors that ease our burden on the planet.

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  • paulakramer

    We have such stereotypes of men and women that we ignore collaborative men and domineering women. I was born in 1951 to a father who was nurturing and a mother who was cold. I have worked with collaborative men and have been bullied by domineering women. We would do better to understand what shapes anyone to be either nurturing or domineering so that we can nurture it in everyone.

  • Elizabeth

    Agree that the 'segmentation' into male traits v female traits does not help the piece. However, the notion of collaboration v domination is bang on! For those who think that is pandering to the lowest common denominator, think again. It is the reality and without any doubt the norm!

    That said, rest assured the 'shift' is happening. As a female in the business world I am encouraged and optimistic. Clearly in the world of HR, and specifically change management,  this is desirable.

  • Peter

    Much of what you write is obvious. 

    However, to call it "feminine" is asinine, as you yourself must acknowledge. Yes, 99% of business literature is written for the semi-retarded and yes there is a lot of money to be made pandering to these half-wits. 

    But the cost is your dignity and self-respect. Nothing feminine about giving that up, Ms. Brittingham. Or innovative, for that matter. 

  • Filipe Dias

    Please, please, stop the antromorphization of ideas and values. Male and female perspectives are a simplistic view on matters which don't reflect anything.
    I agree with what you mean with changing perspectives, no doubts there, but when you mention male and female you're intentionally marking those points as stereotypes on genders, which devalues your text. Why would you do that?

    "The need to dominate is a masculine trait" - "The female “counter” need is community and collaboration"
    Whatttt? Please, stop with the childish accusations. How can you achieve cooperation if you're pinning blame on the opposite gender just like that, assigning antisocial traits to males and social and understanding to females.
    I like what you're were saying until you came with that crap. Shame on you.

  • Filipe Dias

    I wasn't criticising about global issues at all. In fact, I agree with the author's opinion on on those matters, what I'm criticizing is the terms used.
    Dominance is something that everyone understands what it is, if not there's always a dictionary to help. But what exactly is meant by Male Dominance or Female Dominance? Does it mean something else besides the concept of Dominance?
    So lets go in parts. Male dominance is related to Patriarchism, power is held mainly by males. Female dominance is related to Matriarchism, power is held mainly by females. Ok, so is one better than the other? Not really.
    Diference between Male community and collaboration and Female community and collaboration? None. In a collaboration, power is not held tied to a gender, so saying male collaboration or female collaboration is restricting the term to a gender. You can do that for two reasons, one to specify that the workgroup has only one gender, or to promote a gender to be connected to that characteristic, which is wrong in its essence.
    Ok, once again to point out what I mean by both my comments.
    Male dominance is power held mainly by men. Female dominance is power held mainly by women. Collaboration is having no centralised power on a gender.
    So saying female collaboration is meaningless in the same way o male collaboration. It actually degrades the term by establishing differences based on gender, so why refer it like that in the first place.

    Thank you Earl for your response, but I was criticizing the terms used, not the issues raised.
    Wether it's male dominance or female dominance we have to change to a state of collaboration and the general good over a dominance view. That I have no doubts.
    But the way forward is not by accentuating differences by assigning genders to characteristics which lead to misinterpretation.

    Male/Female dominance NO!
    Male/Female collaboration NO!
    Collaboration YES!

  • Earl de Blonville

    Filipe,I don't feel you've actually engaged with the author's main point regarding the dominance of male influence. Being angry about the issue doesn't change any global aspect or impact. We can't change things until we understand what is to be changed and why. Here is some background to male dominance of business.This is not criticism, but merely understanding.Firstly, there are three dominant philosophies that underpin aspects of our western society:Adler's "The Will to Power" (Derived from Nietzche)Freud's "The Will to Pleasure"Frankl's "The Will to Meaning"Secondly, and following on, we see that Nietzche and Adler have explained the modern world's principal male drivers and values. My doctoral research into leadership in business has thrown up some important linkages that help explain this.America's global hegemony, since WW2, has imposed not only a male dominance on all manner of institutions, culture and business worldwide, but a militaristic dominance as well. That militaristic approach is embedded in the American DNA. To understand just how deeply this runs, these stats will help:Before WW1, America was involved in 114 wars or campaigns. Post WW1, the tally is 75. During the Revolution, 238 battles were fought over 9 years. During the Civil War, 10% of white men of military age were killed - 850,000 of them - leaving a huge number of widows and orphans. You can guess the social impacts on families and productivity. Widespread conflict has been continual for Americans since 1675 and there is little surprise that militarism has been languaged into society at almost every level, particularly in business. Language conveys and embeds ideas and values, and through the rise of business globalism, American militarism (and male dominance of all those forums) has also become the default value. This is especially identifiable in the language, drivers and values of the major MBA leadership schools, and the externalised training they sell.I hope this explains where the dominance of male derives from and why. It should be remembered that since the end of the Cold War, 1991, the US has been the globe's sole superpower, and hence it's influence has been globally significant, as has the spread of its fundamental driving values.Suggest you reread the author's views and follow on from there with regard to how you can take some leadership in helping to transform the business space to be less militaristic and more collaboratively social in values.

  • Traumdoc Uwe Alschner

    "The real design basis that must be shifted, therefore, is our very defintion of success."
    Thank you, Britt, for pointing that out. Definetly, we (our respective societies, the world) need a more feminine version of success. Even a more female one, given the fact that more than half of the population of this planet are female, which does not at all reflect in a similar or even same proportion in leadership positions in either business or politics. Yes, our (western) model of success has been driven by males. Success has become a concept of domination. We as individuals have allowed ourselves to be told what "success" is. Greater, bigger, better. Thus, we have become disconnected from what success really means to us. A very effective yet simpe way of re-discovering what success means to us is John P Strelecky's concept of the "Big Five for Life". It entails (symbolically) the five things each of us wants to do, see, or experience in our life. True leaders in business or politics respect this. They know what really matters to them. It is connected to their own Purpose For Existing (PFE) and to the PFE of the organization they are leading. They find "Fellow Travelers" by giving them the opportunity to do what they love (i.e. fulfill their PFE) by doing the jobs that need to be done.
    What comes naturally with this idea is twofold: one is the awareness of the "interconnectedness of all". This brings respect for my own personal self and its facettes (feminine as well as masculine in varying degrees in all of us) as well as respect for my fellow travelers and their Big Five for Life. Cooperation instead of domination.
    Second is higher productivity. People are better motivated doing things they love instead of just any job which pays their "living". The very divide of work as a seperate part opposed to life (after-work, week-end) goes away. Consequently attrition is higher.
    So, acceptimg a more feminine version of success is not only more holistic - it pays off!

  • Ruth Ledesma

    Well done!  Both the masculine and feminine influences make for a healthy balance in both the economy and our social order.  After all, the two are inseparable!

  • Hector Trujillo

    I am 66, Mexican, living in a machista environment.
    Many years ago I suggested that we needed the feminine approach to problem solving I was laught at.
    This is a reality and more so in our Latin Countries, where women are only starting to get suitable education and freedom of choice.

  • Anastacia Brice

    Dbooth and C. David, "masculine" doesn't equate to "male" and "feminine" to "female." We are all blends of both energies, and in most of us, one is predominant. There are specific attributes that, generally speaking, are more "feminine" and others that are more "masculine." Jean mentions some of them here.

    But I got stuck at this: "The female “counter” need is community and collaboration..."

    The minute gender was introduced I became confused about your post, Jean. The *feminine* counter need is community and collaboration," for sure... but there are many masculine-energied women who don't need, or want that, and feminine-energied men who do.

    Any light you can shed on this would be awesome, so that I can better understand the whole of your post.


  • Dbooth

    Sorry, but this
    one strikes me as “grad school feminism” based on outdated 1970’s social
    Competitiveness and the concept of rank are not solely male obsessions—they
    affect everybody.  I see plenty of woman who are just as ( if not more)
    competitive, selfish, materialistic, exclusive and covetous of social standing
    than men.
    She’s right in that it’s time to move toward community and
    collaboration.However, the shift shouldn’t have to
    involve throwing men under the bus as the source of all selfish, competitive

  • Filipe Dias

    Apes, not monkeys. As a famous movie would mention.

    The social structure of the Bonobos is not as complex and fluid as human society, so don't relly on the study of those populations as a direct comparison to human society. Also there's an interesting episode with baboons and an accident which killed the majority of the male population of a group, which lead to a very different group behaviour later on. You should check it out, very interesting.
    Roles of power have changed very much since the appearance of modern humans. Actually, Patriarchal and Matriarchal societies are something new when comparing the lenght of the human history. In a hunter gatherer groups, "power" is mainly held by elders of both genders, there's no dominance view on matters. It's not that men are naturally dominant and women adapt to circunstances by adopting dominating actions to compete. That's an over simplification of stereotypes.
    Human genders have their differences, but also the capability to understand the effects of their actions and intentions as well. Culture, a defining feature of highly intelligent beings, which humans are not the only ones, shapes how social structures are created and adjusted, which does not restrict the influence of a gender to a position in the group.

    Tatcher did not do the things she did because she had to adapt to the situation in hand, she did them because she thought that was the right thing to do. 
    As a man I'm not excused for being violent or dominating, I'm held accountable by my actions not my genotype. And women the same.

  • Earl de Blonville

    I agree with your observations, but would add that the women you refer to have adapted very well to the dominant male paradigm. Britain's Margaret Thatcher was a prime example of how some women in leadership roles can be more brutal and career minded than the men they lead. This is adaptation, not natural instinct, and it works the other way around as well. You should read up on the behaviour of Bonobo moneys.

  • C. David

    Ok, as a gent I'm not going to take the article as more "male bashing", and I do agree with the underlying concept of: "Now we are overfed and under-hunted and upside down on everything from our mortgages to our health because of our need to dominate by always having more."

    However, while the female side of the equation hasn't always had parity, aren't women also just as "overfed, under-hunted, and upside down" as males, due to some of the same needs? Yet, and I'm generalizing here, I don't see the pent up feminine demand to stopping the masculine nonsense in any real arena.

    In general, I think a more holistic approach to success, or a balance, would be a bit more attainable, IMO. You want to be rich, go right ahead; you want lots of stuff, knock yourself out...with the understanding that there is a finite amount of stuff/money/power...and the person who dies with the most doesn't win...because they're dead. And then all that stuff goes to a landfill, or people who'll fight over it and *you* can't take it with you.

    Balancing the drags on our ecosystem, society, and economy should be the understanding that we are social creatures with needs that truly can't be filled with material goods, and that urban sprawl, pollution, staring at a mobile device, starving in the land of plenty, foolish unemployment, social domineering in the place of actual sound and reasonable governing policy, etc. drag us down as individuals, social units, and a nation.

    Ultimately, we need to become "whole" as people, a society, and a nation where we can't be branded only as "consumer/headcount/demographic" without the understanding that GIGO, and with our last breath most of us aren't going to wish we took one more meeting, bought one more thing, or got one more tax break.

    I hope.

  • Earl de Blonville

    Nicely put. What, indeed, is success? The Baby Boomers seem to have defined it as more and more of everything, especially money and stuff you can flaunt. In contrast, research is showing that GenY doesn't buy this view. It seems they don't equate wealth, for example, with heaps of money. Wealth to them is much more nuanced, and a complex mix od self and others, or lifestyle and authenticity. Most of all, it seems GenY seeks above all else, meaning. They will be the first post-WW2 Frankl generation: The Will To Meaning. And as for success (at any cost), what does that mean to the generation who will increasingly be taking the reins of leadership across our society? Not power, not control, not flagrant displays of goods and chattels. Watch this space ...