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)
- Women are less power and status oriented – they prioritize task fulfillment and are more often intrinsically motivated
- Women seek understanding in groups and have a more participative leadership style, Women are more social in their communication
- 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.