By: J.D. Hildebrand
Abstract: If the software industry suffers from testosterone poisoning, what's the cure? And is it worse than the disease? By J.D. Hildebrand.
By J.D. Hildebrand
Last week I shared
some memories about development-industry hijinks and my conclusion that our
business, dominated as it is by aggressive young males, suffers from a peculiar
syndrome characterized by territoriality, competitiveness, enthusiasm, and
violent language. Contrary to the the better judgment of -- well, of
everyone who cares about me -- I concluded my article by suggesting that the
software industry suffers from testosterone
Of course there is a natural follow-up question: What's the alternative?
I am not about to present myself as an expert on the war
between the sexes. When those battle trumpets sound I raise the white flag
and retire meekly from the field -- it saves me a lot of time, I've found, and
the end result is the same.
But as it happens, I spent much of the 1990s at a company that was based on
nontraditional values. If it is accurate to say that aggressive, competitive
companies are built upon stereotypically male attributes, then I worked for an
organization based upon female values. I was the second male in a 12-person
company. I was a male stranger in a very
Decision-making struck me as very inefficient. I was accustomed to
traditional hierarchical companies in which managers made decisions, informed
their subordinates, and left early to beat the traffic. That's how male
companies work. In female companies, everybody holds hands and sings folk
songs until consensus emerges.
Well...not really. But some days that's how it felt. We talked about the
smallest decisions endlessly, until even the meekest staffers had been heard,
then disbanded without taking a vote or announcing a verdict. I discovered later
that somehow, this process left us all with complete understanding and agreement
about what decision had been made.
I have learned that this is characteristic of groups of women. Instead of
using a sensible male majority-rule or top-down decision-making process, women
strive for consensus.
Reaching consensus can be a slow process that includes interminable discussion.
The benefit is that once a decision is made, it enjoys deeper, broader support.
Each member of the group feels that she has been heard, and each leaves the
meeting with an ownership stake in the decision. No one gets drowned out or
Consensus decision-making is one of the ways in which feminine companies
erase the distinction between winners and losers. There are many more.
Negotiators at feminine-based companies look for win-win solutions instead of
trying to be the winner while the other party loses. Until I saw this dynamic in
action, I never really understood what it meant.
In ordinary, male negotiations, it is understood that for each point under
discussion, one of the parties will get what he wants and the other won't. The
winner will be 100 percent satisfied and the loser will be zero percent
In win-win negotiations, both sides try to maximize the sum of the
satisfaction on both sides. A win-win negotiator would rather have an agreement
in which her company got 70 percent of what it wanted, as long as the other side
also got 70 percent of what it wanted. That's a total of 140 percent...a better
outcome than 100 percent and zero percent.
I've come to believe that this is a sensible long-term strategy. To beat it,
you'd have to get 100 percent of what you want in more than 70 percent of your
negotiations. Obviously, the people you're negotiating against will try to do
the same. Maybe you'll win more often, maybe you won't. On average, most of us
will wind up with 100 percent of what we want 50 percent of the time. Seventy
percent every time is better.
And think about what happens at the negotiating table. In traditional, male
negotiating, both sides are understood to be at each other's throat. Suspicion
and anger run high. You wind up making a deal with someone you don't trust. In
win-win negotiating, both sides are working together to maximize the total win,
which they will share. You get to be in partnership with the person you're
negotiating with. That's a much more pleasant way to run a business.
Feminine companies tend to be structured differently too. Instead of
reporting upward in hierarchies, workers tend to manage small, collaborative
workgroups that cooperate with other groups. There's more communication, more
accountability, less distance between those who manage and those who are
Relationships are highly valued. In feminine companies, workers try to build
relationships with customers, suppliers, even competitors. Again, this imposes
overhead in the form of more time devoted to communication. But the result is
that when customers need a new product, they know where to turn. Suppliers save
specials and discounts for companies and people they have pleasant relationships
with. Even competitors can be friendly, proposing cooperative arrangements at
the most surprising times.
I will admit, sometimes it was frustrating to work in a company in which
every decision took so much time, in which each phone call included a chat about
the kids and the garden and the new car. Sometimes it all drove me crazy.
But all in all, I think more businesses could benefit from a dose of -- well,
of estrogen, I guess. Just a little antidote to our industry's characteristic
surplus of testosterone.
Have you incorporated feminine business values in your company, department,
or workgroup? How'd it go? Send a letter
to the editor and let us know!
An award-winning writer and editor, J.D. Hildebrand is the content
director and editor-in-chief of Inprise's developer community.
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