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Male dominated workplaces have more trouble with their performance than more gender balanced offices, business leaders said at the UK Resource Centre for Women last Wednesday, which was also International Women's Day.

Science, engineering and technology (SET) firms in particular should reduce the brimming levels of testosterone in their organisations.

The Catalyst report, 2004, found a positive correlation between the numbers of women in an organisation's management team and its financial performance.

Why? According to the report, a significant cultural change occurs in an organisation when it employs more women.

Encouraged by the Catalyst report, last week's Women's Day talk was all about getting more women into white collars.

Jaguar managing director Bibiana Boerio was making the "economic case for change". She told The Register that increasing numbers of women at Jaguar were helping change its management organisation from a traditionally autocratic, hierarchical culture, to something more collaborative and inclusive.

A dominant idea in gender-based discussion is that there are masculine and feminine corporate cultures. A version of the masculine stereotype was unearthed at BP's technology division four years ago when it started looking at its corporate culture.

BP group vice president of technology Tony Meggs says the culture they uncovered was intolerant of difference. "It was a male dominant culture that left women feeling over-looked, excluded or intimidated," he says.

Schlumberger vice president Pierre Bismuth said diversity is definitely good for business. Bismuth has implemented a zero tolerance rule on "vulgar language" and "bachelor stories" at Schlumberger.

Yet schemes like this deal only with symptoms. A feminine touch may bring about more fundamental cultural changes.

Two women from the University of East London asserted last summer in a paper, Implementation of Large Scale Software Applications, that a blinkered, hierarchical approach to the implementation of IT systems has also been linked to the failure of IT projects. Hierarchies, orders, supplication, obedience, puppy dogs tails - these are the things little boys are made of, as the authors pointed out.

A good way to sum up IT failures would be a lack of communication and collaboration, and that, if you have any truck with stereotypes, is what little girls are supposed to be made of.

Janice Kinory, who ushers women into SET industries, spent 25 years working in the automotive industry and lived through its transition from Fordism to the Kaizen system of manufacturing.

It changed, she says, from a culture in which decisions were determined by "will of the loudest, most macho male in the room" and "overlooked better ideas put forward by less forceful individuals", to a culture in which the careers of women like Ms Kinory improved along with the fortunes of the manufacturers who embraced more collaborative working practices.

A study of organisational politics published last year by Linda Holbeche, a consultant with Roffey Park, found that men were more likely to engage in divisive politics, while women were more constructive.

Yet, Holbeche says men are more able to use politics to their own advantage because they can be more goal driven and competitive - they have no glass ceilings, social stereotyping and fewer difficulties in hierarchical work environments to hamper their ambition.

This may explain why Meggs reports that though a third of graduate recruits at BP are women, they tend to move on to other divisions, like retail, where there are more women and, perceivably greater opportunities (Meggs has 60 per cent more women in technology management, but this is still only 17 per cent of the total).

Improving your bottom line is clearly not as simple as employing more women. Bismuth says he's still trying to remove glass ceilings, but there's a masculine, corporate establishment that is "resistant" to having its workplaces feminised. ®

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