Leadership

Study: Gender Carries Over in Thought Leadership, Too

By / Jan 9, 2018 (Xesai/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Recent research on the written word from Linstock Communications makes the case that many organizations tend to convey messages in a tone that evokes one gender or another, usually male. The result may mean missed chances to have a productive conversation.

Men are from Mars, women from Venus, but when someone reads your organization’s communications, which gender shines through in the messaging?

According to a recent report, that actually matters. The British firm Linstock Communications says that the rise in thought leadership—that is, written communication about leadership—often has a gendered tone that carries through onto the page. While most of that writing, based on the firm’s analysis of 100 pieces of thought leadership, typically carries a male tone (58 percent), a significant chunk (37 percent) also carries a female voice. Just 5 percent of the writings the group surveyed had a neutral tone.

Male voices were most common among law, financial services, and management consulting firms—with 80 percent of legal documents carrying a male voice. Female voices were used most in charity settings, appearing 56 percent of the time. Some industries, like engineering and architecture, had an even split between male and female tones.

So what makes the difference, anyway? The report, per its analysis of academic studies, noted that male voices tend to have more objective descriptions that emphasize a sense of dominance in conversation, while female voices tend to use more creative descriptions that make room for opposing views and aim to foster conversations. (Linstock’s report states that its goal is not to lump all writing into two categories, but “to explore whether content is really being produced with its objectives, and target audiences, in mind.”)

So what does this mean for your own thought leadership? The report concludes that while most corporate thought leadership strikes a dominant tone, it often works against the company’s goals by discouraging conversation and collaboration. Linstock recommends striking a balance.

“The message this sends to thought leadership producers is clear. For future content to truly fulfill its objectives, more emphasis on using writing traits identified as typically female, and adopting a neutral gender approach, will be critical,” the company’s associate director, Tom Yazdi, writes in a blog post.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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