January 4, 2017 by

Here in Nebraska, many of us have mothers, aunts, or family friends like Lorraine. Lorraine bought a farm with her husband, Norman, in the mid 1960s. Both were third-generation immigrants, steeped in the agrarian ethos of hard work, honesty, and reluctance to interfere in someone else’s life unless absolutely necessary.

The Lorraines of the world are stoics. They get on with life, never complaining about aches and pains, only about the weather. They drive tractors and load pigs for the slaughterhouse. They wear boots for the mud, heavy coats for warmth, and seed caps…just like the men. They run the farms by keeping the books and selling the crops.

The Lorraines of the world are tough as nails.

Ranch women and cowgirls are anomalous to female social norms. In the United States, and across the globe, females are supposed to be feminine (remember, this is a norm, a generalization, and not true in every case).

What does it mean to be feminine? According to Sandra Bem, creator of the Bem Sex-Role Inventory, a reliable and validated instrument in most every country, feminine characteristics are those judged to be more desirable for a woman than a man. Femininity includes being affectionate, sensitive to the needs of others, eager to soothe hurt feelings, tender, gentle, yielding, cheerful, and soft-spoken. And femininity also includes (gotta love this one) not using harsh language.

Indeed, the Lorraines of the world are not stereotypically feminine. Instead, they are self-reliant farmwomen—independent, assertive, willing to take risks, aggressive, analytical, self-sufficient, competitive, and ambitious.

But according to social norms across Nebraska and the world, and the BSRI, these are masculine traits. So, ranch women and cowgirls tend to be masculine.

But masculine females don’t only exist on the ranch.

I have had corporate-employees-during-the-day, going-to-school-at-night female students complete the BSRI in my graduate business ethics courses since 1991. And I have used the BSRI across Omaha for many female professional business association workshops. What is true about the Lorraines of the world is true for the female business practitioners I have studied. Overall, they tend to be masculine rather than feminine. Additionally, some are androgynous.

Androgyny, according to the BSRI, is defined as having strong masculine and strong feminine characteristics. So females who are androgynous are both ambitious and gentle, independent and sensitive to the needs of others, assertive and cheerful.

Sounds exhausting to me.

Arduous as it may be, female business practitioners need to practice character traits, skills, and tools that are effective. So what characteristics should we strive toward to be great managers and leaders?

First, a large body of research suggests that females should have at least an average level of femininity. But…and this is an important but….strongly feminine females are perceived to be less effective by both males and females. Too much tenderness, too much yielding, and soft-spoken mannerisms do not convey confidence and an ability to lead during tough times.

However, what if strong femininity is tied to strong masculinity? Would that be effective? Though controversial, another body of research indicates that striving for androgyny is not the answer. Trying to balance or integrate strong femininity and strong masculinity can send mixed messages during negotiations and for most other management and leadership responsibilities. It is anxiety-producing and can lead to self-derogation and depression, which does not result in a perception of effectiveness.

So it looks like masculinity with a moderate level of femininity prevails. Indeed, professors Gary N. Powell and D. Anthony Butterfield have consistently shown across time and for very large samples of subjects that “the general perception of the stereotypic good manager is one of masculinity”—for both males and females. If true, females need to acknowledge and develop their masculine character traits to be seen to be effective.

The tough as nails women have it right. Thanks for being a role model, Lorraine.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of Business Ethics Alliance, and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics & Society at Creighton University.

This article was printed in the Winter 2017 edition of B2B.