Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Well that's what the book was trying to tell us anyway. 50 million copies and 30 language versions later, men and women around the world are still nodding knowingly at John Gray's words of wisdom. Tensions caused by men jumping straight into solution mode, while women just want someone to listen to them abound. We've all been there...... know what I'm talking about?
So why, oh why, given the pop culture status of this book, is it so difficult to beam this awareness from our private lives into the workplace? Are men and women only different in their private lives? Do we suddenly all become the same as soon as we go to work? Have we all become gender blind in the workplace?
Ever heard anyone say "I don't want to be seen as a woman, I want to be seen as a successful professional"? If the world were truly gender blind this could work. But the world is not. In fact the world has 20/20 vision when it comes to gender - we see it, we notice it, immediately.
When we meet someone new the very first thing our brain notices is race and gender. We know it in a flash, faster than a blink of an eye. We don't even notice we're noticing. Harvard researchers discovered a part of our brain - the fusiform face area, or the FFA- that does just that..
So we notice that we are different. Does that mean we actually ARE different?
Through looking at the brains of men and women Barbara Annis suggests that gender is hard-wired. Take a look at the scanned images of a female and a male brain at rest. I always knew that my brain was going tick, tock, tick, tock while my husband's brain has long gone into neutral. Does this means he rests better? Does it mean that I am processing more information?
Source: Leadership and the Sexes: Using Gender Science to Create Success in Business Hardcover, by Michael Gurian, Barbara Annis (2008).
The term male brain and female brain does not mean all women have female brains and all men have male brains. The gender/brain spectrum is quite diverse and includes bridge brains. To find out where you sit on the gender/brain spectrum got to the BBC's "What sex is your brain?" test www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sex/add_user.shtml
Before doing so, do you have preference which type your brain is? If so, ask yourself why?
Now here comes a WARNING!!! Gender and gender roles are not the same thing. So here we delve into that "Oh so never over" Nurture v Nature debate (my father, a doctor who relishes any conversation which touches on "it's in your DNA", would love this). Our gender does not "naturally" translate into the gender roles our society has carved out for us, e.g. men are "naturally" better in maths, women are "naturally" better care givers. These are social constructs, myths shattered by numerous scientific research. Social norms and stereotyping play a frighteningly powerful role in determining our "gender role" and "gendered strengths and weakness". More about this in a future blog.
Even if you don't buy the science, wouldn't it be great to be Gender Intelligent? Wouldn't greater intelligence on gender differences/non-differences benefit us all, men and women, in the workplace and in our private lives? Hands up who would like to work for a Gender Intelligent organisation? Wouldn't that be better than brushing it under the carpet and pretend it's a non-issue?
I'll leave you with some intriguing suggestions of differences between male and female brains that may impact our work and private lives:
- In the female brain, more neural blood flow occurs in the parts that think in and create words and in the parts that connect those words to memories, emotions and sensory cues; in the male brain, more neural activity occurs in the parts that use physical and kinesthetic intelligence, spatial mechanics and abstraction.
- Male brains have more grey matter, female have more white matter. Gray matter processes information locally in the brain, white matter networks and connects information between different parts of the brain. Could gray/white matter differences be a key to the gendered preferences of focusing on one task verses multi-tasking?
- Female brains have a more active cingulate gyrus which effects experience processing, leading to greater contextualisation and reassessing.
- The male amygdala is larger than the female, contributing to anger being expressed physically rather than in words. Anger stimulates the female brain verbally. In a heated situation it might be a good idea for female brains to express verbal anger at a more opportune moment, because the male brain can't "process" the words.
- Difference in brain chemistry effects leadership. Men secrete more testosterone and vasopressin (aggression and territorial chemicals) while females secrete more estrogen, prosgesterone, serotonin and oxytin (calming and bonding chemicals). Did you now that men's chemical secretion peaks in the morning then surges again between 9-11am, is quite a bit lower between 3-5pm before going back up just to diminish again at around 8pm. Think about that next time you schedule a meeting.
Just to set the record straight: I consider myself to be a feminine woman, I rated a male brain in the BBC test, I have good special awareness, I focus on one task at the time, I detest multitasking, I continuously reassess, I tend to overcontextualise, I need to express my anger in words (I am also very extrovert which may contribute, just a tad) but have also been known to throw a thing or two if I've really blown my top. Ask my husband if you don't believe me.