retrieving gender balance

This is a follow-up post from our future is networked & feminine.

Power & Media

The TIMN model, developed by David Ronfeldt describes how human societies have organized: first in Tribes, later with Institutions added (T+I), and in our current society where Markets dominate (T+I+M). As we enter an era where the Network form (T+I+M+N) gains dominance, most of the previous organizational forms will evolve to adapt to the new form. The Network form puts into question our current market-dominated forms, including our institutions and our families. Consider that the nuclear family is no longer the dominant Tribal form in many developed countries. Fewer people have faith in our existing institutions and our capitalist markets are seen as inadequate in distributing wealth. One example is the move to establish a universal basic income in many countries because our markets are unable to effectively distribute wealth.

The TIMN model aligns with changes in how we communicate: Tribes were mostly Oral, Institutions developed with the Written word, Markets were enabled by Print, and Networks communicate Electrically, fragmenting linear literacy. One potential aspect of the Network era is that it will retrieve a more Oral form of discourse, albeit in a new, electric manner. After thousands of years where Writing and Print have dominated, we may be retrieving some aspects of a Tribal society.

In The Alphabet Goddess (1999) Leonard Schlain puts forward the hypothesis that Writing is a patriarchal medium and its advent brought about the demise of matriarchal societies and goddess worship [emphasis added].

“Whenever a culture elevates the written word at the expense of the image, patriarchy dominates. When the importance of the image supersedes the written word, feminine values and egalitarianism flourish.

The introduction of the written word, and then the alphabet, into the social intercourse of humans initiated a fundamental change in the way newly literate cultures understood their reality. It was this dramatic change in mind-set, I propose, that was primarily responsible for fostering patriarchy. The Old Testament was the first alphabetic written work to influence future ages.

Attesting to its gravitas, multitudes still read it three thousand years later. The words on its pages anchor three powerful religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Each is an exemplar of patriarchy. Each monotheistic religion features an imageless Father deity whose authority shines through His revealed Word, sanctified in its written form. Conceiving of a deity who has no concrete image prepares the way for the kind of abstract thinking that inevitably leads to law codes, dualistic philosophy, and objective science, the signature triad of Western culture. I propose that the profound impact these ancient scriptures had upon the development of the West depended as much on their being written in an alphabet as on the moral lessons they contained.”

If one subscribes to Schlain’s hypothesis then it can be seen that society has been male-dominated for several thousand years because of how we communicate. Will the Network era change this? If we look at how our current institutions and markets are structured we can readily see that the most powerful ones are male-dominated. But the internet is not. It is pretty well a 50/50 split, so that women cannot be so easily ignored. The recent cases of sexual abuse in the USA are coming to light not via traditional institutions and broadcasters but through networked social media. A 2017 FastCompany article sums up the situation.

“The power structures that used to protect such men from the consequences they’re now incurring have begun to evaporate … If there’s hard evidence and you know your client did it, you really can’t shield behind it anymore. I think even 10 years ago, you could have, but we’re in a completely different place now and we have to as publicists reteach ourselves how to handle situations like this.”

Leading by allowing failure is a feature of all the strong female characters in the 2017 Star Wars movie. These women rebuke several male characters, while still having positive feelings for them.

“Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of a master.” —Master Yoda, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi shows a future with strong female leaders who do not try to usurp men but learn and work together to build on men’s general decisiveness and resilience. It’s a positive future, building on +90,000 years of evolution. This type of leadership: listening, watching, understanding, and caring stem from our 90,000 year history in oral societies. Our written, print, and digital eras combined, have been much shorter. We should look to the deep past to understand the present and future.

“Swedish scientists have done extensive research on this [peaceful conflict resolution] and they found we first lived in small groups of 20 to 100 people who in any given week averaged 2.5 days for gathering and hunting and 4.5 days on talking. The conclusion they came to from this data was that the brain, the neurological system, and our hormonal systems have had 90,000 years of programming us for talk and collaboration, and only 10,000 years for competition and fighting.” —World Cafe

The dominance of men over women in society has been going on for a long time. I am suggesting that our primary communications media have influenced this gender-based power shift, proposing that electric communications in networks are redistributing some power back to women. While the written and print forms of communication favoured men, oral societies were often matriarchal. It may be that electric communications will favour women, promoting what have traditionally been seen as feminine leadership traits.


Innovation requires diversity. Innovation is not so much about having ideas as it is about making connections. But we cannot connect the dots if we are only paying attention to half of them (namely, men). Innovation is a network activity and creating structural holes through gender bias only weakens the network because innovation is not brilliant flashes of individual insight but rather collective learning.

The historian Mary Beard recently translated Homer’s The Odyssey and showed what is likely the first example of mysogeny in a written work.

“I noticed a scene in Odysseus’s home palace at Ithaca. Odysseus is far away, still trying to get back from the Trojan War. His young son, who’s a bit green actually, is at home with his mum — the savvy Penelope.

One day, Penelope comes downstairs and she hears a bard singing very sad songs about how difficult it is for people like Odysseus, her husband, to get home. And she says to the bard, quite understandably, ‘Oh bard, play something a bit more cheerful.’ And this young, wet-behind-the-ears teenager Telemachus comes over to her and says, ‘Oh mother, shut up. Speech is man’s business.’

That is the first time in Western culture that a rather green, definitely not very sophisticated, young bloke has told a savvy older woman to shut up. And I think every woman in the world will recognise that Penelope moment. To be a man is to speak in public.”

One example of organizational gender bias is a pharmaceutical journal interview with Céline Schillinger, whom I know through social media and the Change Agents Worldwide community of practice. A stereotypical ‘male’ model of leadership dominates in this industry, and I am sure many others.

“Because of conservatism, fear of change, unconscious bias or ‘biased processes’, a narrow archetype of male leader gets favoured over every other talent. Women, but also men who do not fit with this archetype, have a much harder time progressing through the ranks. They are not evaluated according to the same standards. It is not intentional but it is very unfortunate and progress is very slow.”

Human systems thrive on variety and diversity. Gender bias thwarts diversity. The network era workplace requires collaboration and cooperation because complex problems cannot be solved alone. Tacit knowledge flows in networks through social learning. In order to develop the necessary emergent practices to deal with complexity we therefore need to cultivate the diversity and autonomy of each worker.

We also must foster richer and deeper connections which can be built through meaningful conversations. Gender bias, as well as other biases, blocks these connections and the resulting knowledge flows. Leadership is helping the network make better decisions, so managers should help to weave more diverse networks.

Innovation is in a state of perpetual beta. Individual creativity has to be connected to interactive creativity. Cutting off the knowledge flow through institutional bias makes no sense.

“What really matters is to mirror the diversity of the world we serve. We need more women … more humanities majors… more people of colour … more professionals coming from other jobs … in short, a much bigger diversity of viewpoints at all levels. We also need more network and co-construction across levels, as the old pyramidal system is no longer fit for purpose.” —Céline Schillinger

Power Shift

The retrieval of certain aspects of a Tribal/Oral society require a rethinking of how we organize and work. Many people already understand this but they are often stuck in the old ways of organizing. For example, we collectively understand that what are considered ‘feminine’ traits are what leaders need today, as shown in this Inc. magazine study.

“32,000 study subjects were asked to classify 125 traits as masculine, feminine, or neutral. Another 32,000 were asked to rate the importance of the traits to effective leadership. ‘Feminine’ traits were more likely to be strongly linked to leadership.”

This study reported by Inc. magazine concluded that seven of the nine top leadership traits, perceived as feminine in our current age, are also seen as the most important.

Feminine: Plans for Future, Communicative, Reasonable, Loyal, Flexible, Intuitive, Patient.
Masculine: Decisive, Resilient

Image: Inc. magazine

Other people, as this Refinery29 article shows, are seeing signs of change in shifting gender power relationships. Perhaps it is why the ‘me too’ movement has grown so quickly, with communication between women unconstrained by the gatekeepers of the printed word. Business is starting to perceive this shift as well.

“A new generation of women is increasingly stepping into entrepreneurship and innovation. Yet as they do so, we are seeing a wave of businesses with women- centered innovation at the core — meaning, products and services that are designed to reflect women’s pain points and direct needs. This may seem like a minor point — but keep in mind that this simple assertion disrupts thousands of years of social conditioning to ‘code’ for the masculine. Almost all of the products and services women purchase are created, designed, built, and sold to women by male-led companies.”

I see these changes as good for society. I recently watched the film Suffragette to get a glimpse of a time only one hundred years ago when women were seen as the official enemy of the UK government. This of course is even stranger considering their Queen had died only a few years earlier. As one reviewer posted, “What’s more inspiring than a film about half the population, fighting back against the corrupt system, which oppresses it?” I hope this shift continues and rebalances our society. I also know that this shift will likely take time. But it seems that some men are starting to listen. Diversity in our thinking, ideas, cultures, gender, and everything else is the key to our survival and future growth.

First, we can work on changing our attitudes. A 2017 Harvard Business Review article shows that, “our current image of who is a successful entrepreneur, formed largely by the media and popular culture, conforms to a male ideal”. We collectively created these ideals and we can create new ones, together.

In our institutions and our markets, women are often a minority in the hierarchies, but in a T+I+M+N world, women are over 50% and there is little hierarchy. Our future may likely be more networked and feminine. In this future will companies, countries, and societies with a gender power balance outpace patriarchal ones?


“Consistent with our hunch, our most striking finding was about the times when women led very diverse countries rather than men. In these contexts, female leaders were significantly more likely than male leaders to have fast-growing economies. In particular, the countries in the highest quartile of racial/ethnic diversity benefited the most. When led by a woman, they had an average of 5.4% GDP growth in the subsequent year, as compared with their male counterparts’ 1.1%. Our quantitative analysis suggests that it is possible for countries and their economies to benefit from diversity instead of suffering from its challenges, which include intergroup conflicts, discrimination, and biases toward marginalized groups …

Let us be clear: This strong correlation does not guarantee women will always be successful and our research does not establish a causal relationship. Some might argue that our results are due to special circumstances in diverse countries that made it possible for women leaders to emerge or that women leaders are simply benefiting from economies that were bound to rebound. However, there is reason to believe that these female heads of state actually led their diverse countries differently than their male counterparts. Both explanations could be at play. The important takeaway here is that female leaders are associated with economic outcomes that suggest that they may be better able to unlock the benefits of diversity at the country level than their male counterparts.” —HBR 2019-02-07

“The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” —William Gibson


“Another stunning finding is that employees of female managers on average are at least 6 percentage points more engaged than those who work for a male manager. In fact, out of the 12 different questions Gallup uses to diagnose a person’s engagement, employees of female managers outscore male managers on 11 of those items.

Only one out of three workers has a female boss today, yet women leaders eclipse their male counterparts in many of the ways known to inspire high levels of commitment, initiative, and loyalty in 21st-century workers. They more consistently cultivate the potential in their people by creating challenging assignments. They praise and value people for their efforts and contributions. They take steps to foster a positive and cooperative work environment.”

In honour of international women’s day, I am sharing this chapter from Life in Perpetual Beta 2.0, part of the perpetual beta series. It is a synthesis of several previously published blog posts, one of which raised the ire of some readers.

2 Responses to “retrieving gender balance”

  1. Stonebridge

    In a world where content is king and Buzzfeed entertains the world, it’s rare to find good reflection and real knowledge in a blog post. Yours achieved that and more. Thank you for sharing.


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