I used to think the book Men are from Mars Women from Venus was silly. I rolled my eyes and the feminist in me refused to believe that there were fundamental differences in men and women. Somehow I thought that having gender equality meant that we must be the same. I spent much of my career climbing the corporate ladder trying to act like a man, think like a man, and fit in with the men around me. For the most part, I was successful! However, I don’t think my companies were getting the best me. Little did I know at the time, science plays a much larger role in gender equality (especially in the workplace) than one may recognize on the surface.
I am a scientific person. In fact, my degree is in Biomedical Science. So when I began reading about the neuroscience of the human brain and the average differences between the male and female brain, I changed my mind. Yes, on average, by science, men and women are different. We think differently, process differently and make decisions in different ways. We approach meetings, negotiations, and board rooms differently. Guess what? That is ok!
Differing perspectives are exactly why gender diverse teams perform better!
For years, women have been huddled into leadership classes “for women” where we were told stop doing this and start doing that and lean in, but not too much… And be funny, wait don’t be funny, because you won’t be taken seriously, only male leaders can be funny. Aaagh! What the hell am I supposed to be doing? Finally, I said screw it all. I’m going to be me.
Instead of changing me, how about I educate my company about why they should be open to my lens… the female perspective.
So I developed the Gender in Perspective Series, with the hope that instead of trying to change men or change women, we simply shift our expectations of each other.
Science can help explain the average gender differences between men and women. No, that doesn’t mean all men and women fit into a mold. However, if we consider the law of averages, i.e: if on average men are Martians and women Venetians, and our companies are placing value on the way Martians do things, we are never going to get gender equality. And if we don’t start consciously thinking about changing “the water” so all of the fish can thrive, we are never going to move the needle on gender equality either.
Science helps define our thought and decision making processes, so that we may value both, and actually improve our overall decisions.
As a rather simplified example, men tend to have a linear, convergent decision making process, one that jumps to an ultimate end goal or reward. Women tend to have a divergent, cross-brain decision making process, one that considers multiple factors, circles around multiple risks, then comes together in a set of end goals, some which may have changed in this process.
Both of these decision making leans are valuable in business. No business can be successful leaning into one or the other all the time. The value in diversity comes from perspectives, and having both men and women leads to a combination that is powerful.
However it should be noted that if misunderstood or mismanaged, differences can lead to frustration, conflict, and not capitalizing on what we each bring to the table!
Science helps us understand our differences, then we can begin changing our thoughts, biases, processes to:
- Level the playing field for both men and women at work
- Improve communication
- Reduce conflict
- Build stronger teams
- Create a culture of high performance
Science… it’s like magic, only real!
Science can help us move the needle on gender equality. If we ignore the science of gender, we won’t get to a place where we truly have equality. We will be on Mars (the top of our companies) wondering where are all the women are?