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Why do women understand government 2.0 and social media better than men? – an Answer to Andrea Di Maios question

In his recent blog post, Andrea Di Maio stated, that women decision makers seem to embrace the concept of government 2.0 more than men. I share his opinion – based on my own (subjective) impressions.

In Germany, for example, the Federal Ministry of Interior leapfrogged in their attitude and actions with regard to open government, when responsibility for it came to lay in the hands of three women – in one chain of command, with the Federal CIO on top of it.

I also believe that one reason for that is that these women overcome the main barrier to open government easier then man – and that barrier is a cultural one. Government 2.0 may look technology driven and indeed, it is based on the use of new technologies for the interaction of citizens and their government. However, its adoption does not depend (any longer) on the availability of technological solutions but on internal acceptance within public authorities.

Still, why could it be that women are more open to government 2.0?

The distinction Di Maio makes between gov 2.0 evangelists and gov 2.0 practice experts is relevant when looking at the reasons. In public administrations, CIOs often play a significant role in the adoption of gov 2.0 and they, again, tend to be predominantly male. But they are not the only ones to be looked at. Open government stands for a new type of statescraft, for a new mindset, a completely different culture within public sector. One that is open, transparent and receptive to citizen’s voices. Public sector culture in the past could not really be described by these attributes. Rather public administration is still dominated by a culture where information means power and transparency means a loss of control. The path from the old culture to a new and open one requires change management and significant changes within the organization – role descriptions, workflows, and responsibilities. Decision makers in public sector who deal with organizational and cultural change are more often female. This change also involves HR, PR and marketing – all jobs where women thrive particularly well since they seem to have a level of empathy and communication skill which is required to be successful in these roles.

But that’s only a small part of the story. I believe there are many more reasons which could explain the apparent gender difference in government 2.0 adoption as described by Andrea Di Maio. I have been member of the European Women’s Management Development Network and for more than 10 years, I have engaged myself to looking into the differences between men and women in leadership – differences in communication, behavior etc. I have trained more than 1000 women managers from all sorts of companies, including big players like CocaCola, Accenture, Bosch, McKinsey, Deutsche Bank and Fraport. In all these trainings, I not only taught best practices on how to break glass ceilings, but also listened to hundreds of stories from hundreds of women managers, young managers in their first leadership position or experienced board members.

Here is what I see as further explanations, three observations – based on my personal experience:

(Remark: the following statements are black and white but, of course, reality knows all shades of grey with women as well as men demonstrating more male or more female leadership styles, however, it is much more likely that women and men in influencing
positions expose the following differences)

  1. Women are less power and status oriented – they prioritize task fulfillment and are more often intrinsically motivated
  2. Women seek understanding in groups and have a more participative leadership style, Women are more social in their communication
  3. Women are less prone to corruption and more likely to become whistleblower

I want to give some detail on these statements.

Women are less power and status oriented – they prioritize task fulfillment and are more often intrinsically motivated

Research and experience shows that women put more emphasis on WHAT they do as to WHAT box in the orgchart they sit in. As long as they can do a job they love and find meaningful, they are less likely to demand a promotion or raise – and to quit if they don’t get these. For men, a higher position and salary are major motivation factors; it is basically status and money which matters (often) more to them, again, I talk about majorities not about every man and woman.

Power and status today, are still linked to access to information, to belonging to closed circles of leadership. We still find these circles to be not particularly diverse; they are still predominantly populated with white males. Human beings find comfort in likeliness. People who are like oneself are less likely to shock with unpredictable behavior. That’s one building block of glass ceilings – it keeps women (and other more diverse groups of people) out of homogeneous leadership circles.

So what does this have to do with Gov20 adoption?

Open government requires opening up, sharing information instead of sitting on it. It requires giving access to others – many others, diverse others. It requires allowing those others not only to read information but totalk back – in many diverse and often quite unpredictable ways. For an averageman in an average leadership situation this is perceived as loss of control and of status, giving away power and having others interfere in unpredictable ways – something an average man finds difficult to accept.

Women don’t see leadership positions or power primarily as a status win they must defend. They perceive leadership positions as opportunities to influence – the more power, the more influence (not the more status). Hence, a loss in status is not only no problem for them, they could just not care less. With open government they could actually use their position to influence more people – a perceived win in power. Open government for women is therefore, rather a win-win, whereas for men it can be perceived as a subjective threat to their power and status.

Women seek understanding in groups and have a more participative leadership style; Women are rather social in their communication

Lots of studies have shown that women and men have different communication and leadership styles. Women much more often than men, expose a participative leadership style. Already as girls they learn to seek acceptance in groups and not boss around. When women speak up in meetings at big round tables, they usually look everywhere in the audience, talking to left, right and center seated audience, taking care not to miss out on somebody. If somebody shakes their head, they get easily irritated and repeat statements with more convincing arguments, to win over opponents. They rather postpone decisions and have a second or third round of discussions to find a win-win solution everybody can live with. They feel bad if they have to push decisions through without having been able to find an acceptable compromise with all stakeholders. In the same situation, a typical man would address the “alpha animal” in the room more often than anybody else. If their boss nods, they don’t care much about others to nod too. If they face resistance they usually speak louder to reinforce that they are right. If they have to enforce hard decision, that’s perceived part of their job as leaders, just the way it is. It is not giving (most) men trouble at night.

Women will also listen to suggestions coming from far below their hierarchical level – as long as it makes sense. It will not make them feel awkward as it would many men. Women have good risk sensors and much easier than men can admit failures and mistakes. They find it totally acceptable to revise decisions once a situation changes or new facts become known. Men, however, find it very hard to turn around because, admitting a mistake for them means a weakness and therefore, a loss in power and status. A decision once taken has to be right, even if sticking with it becomes very expensive and sometimes even dangerous for their organization.

Women have also a strong end user orientation – especially in technology matters. They don’t fly on every gadgets latest functionality feature – they want useful devices. An earlier Gartner study actually found that software developed in mixed teams tends to be more user centric and of better total quality. Women are used to listen. They populate customer care departments – not only by accident. They care for users; they want to be liked by them – as much as they wanted to be liked by everybody else when they were girls. They hate conflicts and repulsion. They seek harmony.

How does this relate to open government acceptance?

Good open government means honest participation of citizens. Honest means, governments not only listen to people but they react on what they hear. This can include admitting mistakes, revising decisions, involving people with perceived “no or low expertise” (and no hierarchical level at all) in a decision making process such as prioritizing on investments. It also means being transparent in what one does as a governmental official and thus, bearing the risk of being critiqued in public. Open government also relies on putting citizens at the top of mind – trying to make as many of them happy as possible with available resources. Its citizen centric government, it aims at minimizing conflicts by involving more stakeholders in decision making processes.

Open government, thus, fits well with a typical female communication and leadership style and less with a typical male one. It fits best a woman’s focus on user (=citizen) acceptance and less a male focus on technical functionalities.

Women are less prone to corruption and more likely to become whistleblower

Last but not least, experience shows that most corruption is done by men and that many whistleblowers are of female gender. Corruption, of course, has to do with the perception of status and power and at the same time, contributes to income (if unofficial). Maybe that’s why it is more frequent with men. It certainly has not only to do with the fact that there are more men in higher management positions since the lion share of corruption takes place at middle management level where the share of women is very high. Look in prisons for women who sit in for corruption or committing economic crimes – you will find very few. If money is wasted, environment endangered, or customers cheated – women blow the whistle, as they did at Enron, at Worldcom or elsewhere, making major scandals public. A study at the US Airforce found that women did not even shut up when retaliated; instead, if their internal whistleblowing was not successful but punished, they went public to report wrongdoing outside the organization in order to get bad situations changed. Other studies have shown that Advisory Boards with a higher share of women tend to reach higher levels of compliance and better overall corporate governance.

The connection to open government is easy to see here. Being less corrupt, women have less to fear by maximal transparency. With their preference for higher compliance in the whole organization, they find transparency beneficial and embrace the concept of citizens helping the government become more compliant itself.

That is my (subjective) explanation why Andrea Di Maio may have found so often women more prone to implement open government/ government 2.0 in their public administrations.

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Beth Beck

Good insight!

I attended a NASA workshop years ago where the facilitators separated out the men and women in two lines then asked us to order ourselves in order of dominance. The men went crazy fighting for the front of the line. The women kept trying to encourage me to go to the front of the women’s line. I told them that “dominance” meant nothing to me. I didn’t want in the front of the line. Excellence or leadership were words that would make me move to the front.

Watching the men go crazy, I asked the facilitators if it mattered whether or not we stayed segregated by gender. They didn’t care what line we stayed in. So I went to the front of the men’s line. Again, I cared nothing about dominance, but the fact that the men cared seemed really amusing to me. The men actually picked me up and carried me to the back of the line. At this point, a brawl broke out and the facilitators had to break it up.

Pretty amazing social experiment on the differences between the genders on what we value.

In Gov 2.0, I value tools that make my life easier, or one that provide opportunities to get the job done in new ways.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

These assertions make me sad. We have folks who attempt to prove that one generation is just naturally better at social networking technologies than another. Now we spread this to gender. The problem with these beliefs is that there is no actual research to back up the claims (or at best, the studies contradict each other).

Now these arguments over who gets it does draw a crowd but how does it help? Should the men or Boomers be sent to remedial classes so that they can get it? Should we only hire women who are also Millenials?

This is a big planet with six billion people and a wide variety of personalities no matter the gender, generation, race, etc. I just wish we could get past throwing people into broad categories and appreciate that the different dimensions that make up a personality and talents.

Besides, everyone knows that of all the astrological signs, the Scorpios are the best at Gov 2.0. 🙂

Michele Costanza

Hi Anke: Thanks for posting this.

Are there any examples of how formal hierarchical structures are removed, and consensus-building and buy-in from every possible stakeholder meant that very little will was accomplished?

Michele Costanza

@Bill: When overused, sometimes a strength becomes a weakness. That’s why I asked if too much consensus-building and trying to obtain buy-in from every possible stakeholder could actually lead to very little accomplishment.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Michele: I see your point but I question the assumption that who gets Gov 2.0 better is gender-based. I realize that Anke admitted there are shades of gray to her argument and my contention is that there are so many exceptions to the argument that it is useless.

Additionally, by selecting the stereotype to highlight, you can dramatically affect a person’s performance. For example, when Asian women were given a math test, they did better when reminded of their Asian ancestry as compared to when they were reminded of their gender. Same women, same math skills but different results based on how they were perceived.

An excellent book on the subject of how we create identities is David Berreby’s Us and Them: The Science of Identity. There is a lot that goes into making our personalities and it is a fascinating process.

Anke Domscheit-Berg

@Bill + @Michele: I am a strong promoter of diversity – because I do believe in existing gender differences (maybe social or genetic – thats of no immediate relevance) and a diverse mix of abilities, talents, backgrounds, and experiences is always bringing best results.
In diverse leadership teams you are more likely to find women pointing out risks and more strongly involving other people and men who drive things and push forward. The middle is always the best. However, you usually have a leader/manager taking decisions and in some situations it can be more beneficial if those leaders have certain abilities – compared to other situations requiring other abilities more.
I am not saying women managers in general are better then male managers. I simply tried to find explanations for the apparent existing differences in gov20 implementation by gender – as seen not only by Andrea Di Maio (read the comments to his blogpost).
Michele, you are right, every characteristic, if found in extreme, will have a negative impact. That holds true too for trying to obtain buy-in from “every possible stakeholder”. A good manager has to find a good balance between delaying decisions and maximising the number of happy stakeholders. I was not talking about extremes but about women who get things done.

As too my experiences: i know of no case where women delayed gov20 processes. I know of many cases where men rejected gov20 changes such as open data initiatives with all sorts of objections, ranging from data protection concerns to “we dont want to make our deficiencies to be made public and visible so that others can find reasons to complain about us”. I have never heard such a sentence from a woman. Again, this is personal experience, no representational statistic and I admit, I deal more with men then with women. But it seems odd that so many different gov20 experts from several parts in the world share the same experience.
Of course we should not hire just digital native females, that would be stupid. But our observation could be one more reason to break glass ceilings, increase the share of women in leadership positions where there are too few of them. Diversity benefits all of us. Just to make a last thing clear: I have also met men who get things done in gov20, and none of them belonged to the digital native generation.

Joshua Salmons

As a U.S.-born, white, middle-class, protestant man, I’ve been told through my public education that my ego-driven European thirst for domination has slaughtered entire civilizations and that I should be ashamed.

My women’s studies courses in college told me that my shameful exploitive male nature subjugates billions and that I should be ashamed.

My empowered ethnically diverse friends infer that my despicable heritage makes me incapable of empathy and that I should be ashamed.

All I have left is my love of empowering others and Gov 2.0. Don’t take that awaaaaaaay! 😉

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Anke: I have had several experiences where women delayed going forward with a Gov 2.0 process while men were happy to push it forward. I also know men who are quite good at pointing out risks (one of my specialties) and making sure everyone is heard. And I have been in several meetings with women leaders who are not inclusive and push decisions hard. In my fifteen+ years in government and the private sector, most of my bosses were women. They all had different leadership styles as did the few male bosses I had.

“But it seems odd that so many different gov20 experts from several parts in the world share the same experience.” I read the original blog that you quote from and even the author admits he needs to do a survey. I don’t believe the folks who comment are that representative as they self-selected themselves to mostly agree with the author.

Maybe you can chalk it up to me being a typical male to keep arguing this point but I just hate stereotypes. It’s just wrong.

Anke Domscheit-Berg

@Joshua: I hope you really exaggerated, I really hope people have not been that bad to you, it would be a shame for society. I do indeed consider myself a feminist but never an enemy of men. I cannot emphasize enough how much value a diverse team can bring to any task. I met totally enthusiastic men – which I already mentioned in my earlier comment. Sure they are a reality. Great, you are one of those!!!
Andrea Di Maio and others (me included) where only refering to the impression of an imbalance. An imbalance does not mean 0 versus 100. And as I clearly stated in my post, I am not talking about ALL women or ALL men having the same set of strenghts – separated by gender, sure there is not just black and white but all shades of grey (I wrote that already in my blogpost).

@Bill: I dont doubt your experiences. But I still have my own – and I only referred to mine – as subjective too. I reread the post of Andrea Di Maio, as to the survey bit he writes: “I may consider to do one, but what many do not seem to realize is that the single most important and richest source of data for Gartner analysts is their own client interactions.” (and then he goes on explaining into detail how rich this interaction is – in quality and quantity).

For me this rather sounds like “why does everyone insist on surveys when my best input comes from hundreds of client interactions”. He closes his blog post with this sentence: “So, even without online surveys, interviews and desk research, I think I am in a position to state, sadly as a man, that women really get this more than we do. It would be interesting to figure out why, rather than fighting the evidence, and this is where I hope I’ll be able to do some research.”

Here he clearly states that the research he intents to do is about the WHY not the IF of the issue.
Its awkward that Gartner analysts are never asked for other stuff they write whether its all based on surveys…

Andrea Di Maio

Very interesting how people (men) get very defensive about this. On Twitter as well as on GovLoop. I must be right 🙂

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Anke and @Andrea – I’m just asking if you have actual data rather than subjective experiences. It’s not defensive to ask if you have something other than your subjective experiences to back up your arguments.

I do urge you to do your survey. You might be surprised by the results as Jennifer Deal was in her research of generational differences – Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young and Old Can Find Common Ground.

Daniel Daughtry-Weiss

Stereotypes are stereotypes, regardless if they are 40, 50, 60, or 75% true. The problem is that stereotypes are harmful and self-perpetuating, to everyones’ detriment. Men and women are expected to be a certain way, it is no wonder they are! This is not liberation–it is bondage.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Whatever we think of the differences in gender related to Gov 2.0 or beyond, I heard a demographer outline some of the preliminary trends revealed by the 2010 Census…and one of them was “The End of Men.” He provided some statistical underpinning for this Atlantic Monthly article…so whether we like it or not or feel the need to argue about distinctions in leadership style or perceived openness to innovation and collaboration, the clear reality is this: women are rising to power quickly and our workforces will be transformed in the process.

And I, for one (man), welcome it.

Cindie Apruzzese

Maybe because women have more brain power than men have. Women have more willpower over finances than men do. Men gamble away their money while women do their best to save money.

Michele Costanza

Most of us of a certain age and generation have been inculcated to see through a lens of the race/gender/class triad. The more I learned about personality types, the less I agree with placing so much emphasis on understanding people based on other classifications, with the exception of generations. There is data showing that younger generations have adopted new technology platforms sooner than older generations. To me, personality type is more innate and a better way to understand why and how individuals use their strengths.

Isn’t it ironic that we are having this discussion in an online community and a technology platform (GovLoop) that was started by men, not women? So what is the point of saying that based on their gender characteristics, women are more likely to understand and appreciate Gov 2.0?

Instead of a study on gender and Gov 2.0 implementation, I think it would be much more enlightening to study whether or not certain personality types are drawn to collaborative technology platforms and transparency and open government.

How about a survey on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the implementation of Gov 2.0? For example, are early adopters of Gov 2.0 more likely to be extroverted or introverted? Are they more inclined to take in information through their intuition or through the five senses? Do they make decisions based on thinking or feeling? Do they like to plan or do they wing it?

Anke Domscheit-Berg

I totally understand that many people dont like stereotypes and yes, stereotypes can reinforce themselves. However, to ignore the fact that there ARE differences because somebody does not like them, does not lead to eliminating these differences neither. You have to know about stereotypes in order to act not only according to them but also in order to break them. If a father wants his son to grow up as a non-stereotyped human being, he may see to it that his son sees him crying when he is sad or sees him stay at home instead of mum when the son is ill. Men and women can break stereotypes if they know about them. I admire men who are so strong that they dont need status symbols to feel good and successful and who are proud of having an equally strong and successful wife. Sounds like something normal but these men are actually rare, at least where I live.

We have an interesting kind of “post gender” discussion in Germany where e.g. members of the pirate party (Gen Y) refuse to talk about gender issues, saying gender just does not matter for them anymore. With this argument, the female members of this party where forbidden to open a womens-forum to chat amongst themselves. There was a fierce debate about this even within the party because some women just felt they needed this extra room to talk and that they dont feel post gender at all. It would be nice to live in a post gender society but it is being blind to ignore the existing effects of a truely gendered society. Look at the share of women at CEO rank or at C-level in general at the FT100 companies. Not even 1%. Is that post gender? Look at the share of women in parliaments, ministerial positions or as head of state all over the world or look at who possesses 90% of all equity in the world, or look at wage gap differences – all these numbers dont speak for post gender. We may like it – but we are not yet there. Closing eyes over reality is not helping in the process.

Michele Costanza

@Anke: Imagine the reaction if a man had written the same blog asserting that men were better at understanding how to be a software engineer than women without any data to illustrate the theory. So why is it okay to assert that women are more likely to understand and implement Gov 2.0 because of their innate gender characteristics?

Philip Branton


LOL…..what if a MAN had written the same article…..!!! Would it get him FIRED like Juan Williams for insensitivity..!? Could a female worker use his comments against him if they were up for promotion to the same position..!?! How would the MAN react if this scenario happened..!?

@ANKE……. your view hits a unique bullseye..!!

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@ Andy – You may want to use more updated data: Women Dominate Men at Social Networking

But it depends on which online network you are talking about: LinkedIn Study Finds Men Are Better Networkers Than Women.

Is it the type of relationships that matter? Women Are Actually Better At Networking Then Men, Book Says.

Or maybe it is the industry? Are men or women better at networking? It depends.

Maybe women are better at creating networks but men get more value out of their networks: Women Are Worse Than Men At Turning Networks to Their Advantage

Doesn’t seem like there is a clear answer to this question? My question is why even ask which group is better at social networking when you will find so much individual variation within the groups that the supposed group advantage has little impact on real-world hiring decisions. It’s a quick slide down the slippery slope to stereotypes.

Andrew Krzmarzick

@Bill – Great response, especially grounding it in some of those articles (which I’ve seen, but couldn’t put my fingers on). Interesting that Pew hasn’t refreshed their data / reports on gender and the Internet since 2009, eh? Thanks for providing that more recent link.

I don’t think this trend can be dismissed easily. When you take this trend of women leveraging the web for relationship-building coupled with some of the other data on graduation rates, etc., it’s becoming easier to see why Hanna Rosin declared “The End of Men” as this century wears on…

Also, earlier this year when I was sharing my thoughts on the “6 Competencies of a Gov 2.0 Leader” at an event, one of the (male) participants remarked, “all of those competencies give a definitive advantage to women.” I had never thought of that before he mentioned it…but more and more evidence is pointing to the fact that this just may be women’s century…

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Andy – I can also apply the six competencies to the Packers as an explanation of their amazing record this NFL season. Maybe it is the Packers century. 🙂

On the average, you are arguing that the behavioral traits of the average woman in terms of networking give her the advantage over the behavioral traits of the average man. In a population of 300 million, you (roughly) have 150 million women and 150 million men. If we use your competencies, then there would be so many exceptions to the average (ideal) man and the average (ideal) woman, that the advantages would be meaningless.

Now, this is not just an academic exercise. This has real implications for hiring decisions and for promoting diversity in the Federal government. Stereotypes based on gender, sexual preferences, race, and other demographic factors has proven harmful in the past and just not based on rational reasons.

Your competencies point more toward styles of thinking and thus we strive for cognitive diversity. This seems much fairer and more likely to achieve the best development of people.

Andrew Krzmarzick

@Bill I’m not sure that I’m arguing for a particular position as much as I’m noting some trends…and I’m not sure I’m agreeing with that observation by the participant as much I’m suggesting that there is definitely a shift / increase in the power and influence of women in the workplace…and I, for one, welcome it!

I would also agree with the need for cognitive diversity…but you’d still need to break people into types to achieve any kind of differentiated hiring outcomes (i.e. hire based on MBTI? TKI? etc.)

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Andy – I’m fine with a shift toward more women in the workforce as I am with more minorities in the workforce. Diversity of perspective is sorely needed especially when dealing with complex problems. I just bristle at the assumption that one perspective is somehow better than another.

I suppose I am more sensitive to this considering that I recently suffered discrimination based on age. Not to go into details but certain assumptions were made about my technical expertise involving social media based on the fact that I had a little gray hair at my temples. Despite the fact that I was active on online bulletin board systems back in the early 80’s and can even create Facebook apps, I was relegated to just making phone calls since that was a “technology I was most comfortable with.” A colleague, about my same age and one of the most prolific texters I have ever met, was also confined to just making phone calls. Both of us had extensive customer service skills and even offered to do more but we were rebuffed in favor of “those who get it.’

I know it is only natural to form impressions from our first encounter with a person and their outward characteristics do predispose our opinions of them. But I have been so wrong when relying on my first impressions that I have learned to wait until I talk to the person before fully forming my assessment of them.

Andrew Krzmarzick

@Bill Stereotypes can be damaging and I’m sorry to hear about the discrimination you experienced. I agree with this: “I have been so wrong when relying on my first impressions that I have learned to wait until I talk to the person before fully forming my assessment of them.” Easier said than done, for sure.

Dannielle Blumenthal

Realizing that I may be repeating what others have said – wow is this post full of stereotypes about gender. As a female and a feminist I can say with conviction that women are no better or worse than men. As for what looks like superiority that is only cultural adaptation ro disempowerment.

In my own experience and observation it is actually men who have been at the forefront of Gov20. This is not due to superiority either. Mostly they are more comfortable with technology.

Let’s just deal with people as people and where there are differences try to understand why and how they occurred.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Hey – I just want to make sure I’m not conveying the wrong idea here. I’m not suggesting that women are superior….just that there is an undeniable trend that women’s influence and leadership on the web (and, by extension, the public and private sectors where they offer their contributions) is growing…and this trend might even continue at an accelerated rate. Not better. Just a societal shift. And we should pay attention.

Dannielle Blumenthal

I am all for pointing out trends and highlighting what diversity teaches us…it is only essentialism and superiorizing that bother me. No that is not a word.