Masculinity vs Femininity: Competition vs Cooperation

In a previous post, we explained the individual vs collective cultural dimension and how you can avoid conflict caused by differences in this fundamental dimension. In this post we explain how the Masculinity cultural dimension affects business and how you can avoid conflict.

Masculinity vs Femininity

Whether societies are ‘tough’ or ‘tender’.

Masculinity <—————> Femininity

High masculinity = a tendency towards masculine values

Important values: achievement, heroism, assertiveness, material rewards for success, competitiveness, power, measurement, testing, ‘workaholism’

High femininity = a tendency towards feminine values

Important values: cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak, quality of life, the arts, consensus, relationship building, aesthetic values, trust within business dealings, personal time


t’s easy to see how a person or company that does business from a perspective of cooperation could clash with a person or company that does business from a perspective of competition.

In cultures that are high in masculinity, business is typically seen as a competition, with a winner and a loser.

In cultures that are high in femininity, business is typically seen as an opportunity for cooperation, to find ways to work together to achieve a common goal or purpose.

This applies not only to national cultures, but also to occupational cultures. For example, sales and engineering are typically more masculine — competitive — occupations, while management and office work are typically more feminine or cooperative.

Generally speaking, the cultural values of the Nordic and Baltic countries tend to be higher in femininity — the people of those countries typically seek to find a solution that works for everyone. 

The countries of central Europe and the Anglo countries tend to be high in masculinity, with the people of those countries having a more competitive attitude: “I win, you lose.”

So how can you adjust when doing business with someone from a different point on the Masculinity scale? Here are some tips.

1. As always, the first step is to understand what your own personal culture is.

Do you typically seek to cooperate and look for a way to work together (= high femininity)? Or do you see life and business as a competition, with winners and losers (= high masculinity)?

2. In any cultural clash, remember that the other person’s behaviour and attitude are cultural, not personal. And remember that your behaviour and attitude are conditioned by your cultural programming. No one is right, and no one is wrong. People simply have different perspectives.

3a. If your cultural perspective is more masculine, understand that being competitive and looking to ‘win’ could cause you to lose. Seek to find a way to work with the other person or company, rather than against them.

3b. If your cultural perspective is more feminine, understand that you may need to be uncharacteristically ‘tough’ in this situation. It may not be possible to cooperate, and you may need to choose between being the ‘winner’ or the ‘loser’.

Are you curious where your national culture lies on the Masculinity-Femininity scale? Ask us on the BECC Academy LinkedIn page.

The understanding of this cultural dimension is from the book Cultures and Organizations by Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede and Michael Minkov.

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