I am re-reading a book by Rachel Simmons called Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. I will be interviewing Rachel on January 25th for my kick-off Women2Women2Girls program. Initially my focus was on her work with girls. What’s been rumbling around in my head over the last few days is the question:

How has the girl culture of my school years shaped me as a woman leader?

If you’re a guy, don’t delete now, because you likely have a daughter or lead women or have women clients. And, your ability to understand women is critical. A big caveat—as not all men were shaped by sports teams, not all women had the experiences in this book. But, it’s likely many women have some recall of this culture.

So, here’s a small window into what has struck me by Rachel’s research and thinking:

  • Girls are taught to be nice, sweet, quiet, “the good girl” (the title of Rachel’s second book) and to become the caregivers and nurturers of the family.
  • Relationships and status in their peer group is the coveted reward–what drives them.
  • Girls opt to show their aggression covertly, delivering punishment through exclusion—isolation is seen as danger.
  • Boy’s aggression is more physical, making it  much easier for teachers and parents to address.
  • Part of a girl’s status is the status of her boyfriend, and girls steal and fight over them.
  • Girls are “in” then “out” then “in” again, and the larger group of girls orchestrate that roller-coaster, while trying to stay safe.

OK, so if you resonate with this simplified version of some key concepts, what is the impact of this growing up environment on our women leaders?

  • Do women worry about what will happen to their relationships more than men?
  • Are women more polite than men, holding back critical opinions and feedback—not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings?
  • Do women compete with each other more than with men? Are we more jealous of successful women?
  • Do women help each other—the way we could?
  • Do women view men as the key to success more than other women leaders?

This week, please comment below. Do you remember this culture from your schooldays? What’s the impact on you now? (First names only, of course). If you’re a guy, what do you remember and observe?