Would you prefer to: 1) work the same number of hours and earn more money, or; 2) work fewer hours and earn the same money? According to Geert and Gert Jan Hofstede this question can help us ascertain whether a culture is “feminine” or “masculine”.
The Hofstedes are academic researchers who study the influence of national cultures on organizational behavior. The Hofstedes write that there are five basic dimensions of culture: 1) power distance — the degree of equality/inequality in a culture; 2) individualist/collectivist continuum; 3) masculine/feminine; 4) Uncertainty avoidance — the degree to which we believe that what’s different is dangerous; 5) short-term/long-term orientation. I’ve written about the first two previously (here and here). Today, let’s talk about masculine/feminine. I’ll cover the other two in the near future.
According to the Hofstedes, the masculine/feminine dimension has mainly to do with the degree of differentiation between gender roles. In “masculine” cultures, “…gender roles are clearly distinct: men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success, whereas women are supposed to be modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life.” In “feminine” cultures, “… gender roles overlap: both men and women are supposed to be modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life.”
As with their other dimensions, the Hofstedes develop a scale (MAS) and rank order 74 countries. The five most “masculine” countries are Slovakia (MAS = 110), Japan (95), Hungary (88), Austria (79), and Venezuela (73). The most “feminine” countries are Sweden (MAS = 5), Norway (8), Netherlands (14), Denmark (16), Slovenia (19). The United States has an MAS score of 62, making it the 19th most “masculine” country on the list.
The masculine/feminine dimension is the only one of the five dimensions that is not correlated to national wealth. In general, wealthier nations tend to have smaller power distance (more egalitarian), lean toward individualism, are more comfortable with uncertainty, and have a long-term orientation. The masculine/feminine dimension, on the other hand, has no relationship to wealth. We see rich and poor masculine cultures and rich and poor feminine cultures in approximately equal proportions.
In very general terms, masculine cultures are about ego, feminine culture are about relationships. In masculine cultures, status purchases (expensive watches, jewelry) are common and people buy more nonfiction books. In feminine cultures, people buy more products for the home, invest more in do-it-yourself projects, and buy more fiction. In masculine societies, failure at school is a catastrophe and may lead to suicide. In feminine societies, school failure is a relatively minor incident. In masculine societies, competitive sports tend to be part of a school’s curriculum; in feminine societies, they are extracurricular.
In the workplace, the masculine/feminine continuum produces important differences in work content and management styles. In masculine cultures, we might hear people say, “I live to work”. In feminine cultures, we’re more likely to hear, “I work to live”. Answering the opening question (above), masculine societies tend to prefer more salary for the same hours; feminine societies prefer the same salary for fewer hours.
Job enrichment also varies by culture. In masculine societies, enrichment largely means more opportunities for advancement, recognition, and challenge. In feminine societies, enrichment is more about relationship building and mutual support. In feminine cultures, small is beautiful. In masculine cultures, bigger is better. In feminine societies, careers are optional for both genders. In masculine societies, careers are mandatory for men, optional for women.
You can find the Hofstede’s book here.
Would you make fun of your boss… to her face? If you’re from Denmark, you might. If you’re from Slovakia, probably not.
That’s one of the conclusions you might draw from the Power Distance Index (PDI), a measure of one of the “dimensions” of culture. Since the early 20th century, social scientists have worked to classify human cultures and measure how they differ from each other. The dimensions deal with fundamental concepts, like how we conceive of ourselves as individuals, the relationship between the individual and the group, how men and women relate to each other, and how we handle conflict. From these foundations, different observers have developed different numbers of cultural dimensions, ranging from a low of four to a high of nine.
Lately, I’ve been reading the work of Geert and Gert Jan Hofstede, a father-son team of cultural researchers from the Netherlands. In their book, Culture and Organization: Software of the Mind, they suggest that there are five cultural dimensions: 1) power distance; 2) individualism versus collectivism; 3) femininity versus masculinity; 4) uncertainty avoidance; 5) long-term versus short-term orientation. I’d like to look at all five of these — and their inter-relationship — over the coming weeks. Today, let’s look at power distance. (By the way, one of the reasons I like the Hofstedes is that they relate their findings to the workplace. The last several chapters of their book offer practical advice on managing in a multicultural world).
The Hofstedes define power distance as “the extent to which the less powerful … [citizens] … of a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.” The Hofstedes developed an index to measure power distance within a country and applied it to 74 different countries. The five countries with the highest PDI scores are Malaysia (PDI = 104), Slovakia (104), Guatemala (95), Panama (95), and Philippines (94). The five with lowest scores are German-speaking Switzerland (26), New Zealand (22), Denmark (18), Israel (13), and Austria (11). (The United States has a PDI of 40)
Power distance affects cultures in myriad ways. Countries with low PDIs generally believe that “inequalities among people should be minimized.” On the other hand, those with high PDIs generally believe that “Inequalities among people are expected and desired”. In low PDI countries, “parents treat children as equals”; in high PDI countries, “parents teach children obedience”.
In the workplace, differences between low- and high-PDI countries can be pronounced. In low-PDI countries, the workplace is generally decentralized with few supervisors. The ideal boss is a resourceful democrat and status symbols are generally frowned upon. In high-PDI countries, the situation is essentially reversed: the workplace is centralized with a large number of supervisors. The ideal boss is a benevolent autocrat and status symbols are normal and popular.
Here are two findings that struck me as very odd. In Europe and the Americas, countries with Romance languages had — on average — higher PDI scores than those with Germanic languages. In the popular imagination, Germanic countries are often perceived to be very hierarchical. The Hofstedes’ research suggests that the opposite is true. Austria (PDI= 11) has the lowest PDI of any of the 74 countries. German-speaking Switzerland has a PDI of 26 which compares to 70 for French-speaking Switzerland. Germany itself has a score of 35.
The other oddity is that PDI scores tend to drop the farther north (or the farther south) you move from the equator. Tropical lands tend to have higher power distances than temperate lands. Here are scores for some of the more northern (and southern) countries: Denmark (18), New Zealand (22), Ireland (28), Sweden (31), Norway (31), Finland (33), Australia (36), Canada (39). The Hofstedes suggest some possible reasons for this distribution but their ideas seem a bit too pat to me. While I’m scartching my head as to the cause, it may be that we’re simply measuring language differences again. None of the northern countries I’ve just listed speaks a Romance language.
So, what does it all mean? I’m still working on that. I do find it very interesting that the Nordic countries are clustered at the very low end of the PDI table while they’re at the very high end of the World Happiness Report and the Global Innovation Index. There’s something interesting in the state of Denmark. Think about that for a while. In the meantime, don’t laugh at your boss.