By Jay Forte, President, Humanetrics, LLC
Men and women do not think the same way; biology ensures this. Men think in a more spatial, logical and competitive way; women think in a more holistic, cooperative and interpersonal way – it has been this way for thousands of years. Though we have similar brains, each gender accesses their brain capabilities in very different ways. This helped us survive as the male hunted for food (task-focused) and the female maintained the community (relationship-focused).
Fast forward thousands of years. We still have the same brains and continue to access them in similar ways. But nearly everything about our world has changed. So if our brains do not fundamentally change but our world, workplace and definition of value do, how do our brains help us “survive” in our present world? Is the male’s or female’s brain response better (adds greater value) in today’s workplace? Does gender brain biology have any impact on creating value and influencing performance?
To answer these, we first look to how our world has changed. We have moved from brawn to brain, industrial to conceptual, manufacturing to service/innovation. Today, more than 80 percent of all businesses in the U.S. provide primarily service; much of manufacturing has moved offshore. As author Seth Godin states, “we used to make food (agrarian society), then we made things (industrial age), now we make ideas (service economy).” Service/innovation is an intellectual and emotional event; no longer do most employees perform recurring industrial tasks (skill-focused). The new service economy provides employees with constantly changing customer situations. For organizations to be successful, employees must be engaged, competent and thinking (talent-focused); this movement has changed the workplace definition of value and the expectations of employee performance. Thinking guides performance; how we access and use our thinking is influenced by gender brain biology.
Both genders share a brain whose processing power is allocated within two hemispheres, right and left. The left brain is more detail and task-focused, logical, sequential and objective. The right brain is more big-picture, non-linear, intuitive, holistic and emotional. Over the ages, the left brain has dominated, particularly in the agrarian and industrial workplaces. Today, value is lead by the right brain (undervalued or ignored in earlier economies); our service/conceptual workplace succeeds by a more significant focus on connection, people, purpose and feelings. Those who can maximize the impact of their right brain, now contribute more significantly to the workplace.
The effectiveness of our male or female brains is assessed by our IQ (intellectual quotient) and our EQ (emotional quotient). According to Dr. Ron Mercer, Ph.D. of the Center for Creative Living in Coral Springs, FL, our IQ, our level of intelligence, is hardwired into both sides of our brain – we are unable to significantly improve it (what we have is what we will always have). Our IQ accounts for only 4 to 10 percent of our success in today’s service/conceptual workplace.
Our EQ, our emotional intelligence (defined as our personal and social competence – our ability to know ourselves and relate to ourselves and to others), accounts for 40 to 60 percent of our current day career success according to Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book. Emotional intelligence is critical in a workplace that relies on personal connection and innovation, and unlike IQ, “a high EQ can be developed even if you aren’t born with it”. As IQ and a more significant focus on left-brain thinking may have been a better indicator of performance in the industrial age, EQ and right brain thinking more significantly impacts performance in a service/conceptual age. The level of each gender’s EQ now influences performance.
According to research conducted by Dr. Travis Bradberry, women test higher in three of the four areas of emotional intelligence (EQ) than men. Women’s brains develop differently to be more supportive, relationship-based and emotional. As Anne and Bill Moir present in their book Why Men Don’t Iron, “Her brain sees more, hears more, communicates better and cross-references much more efficiently. Her brain possesses more verbal resources; the parts of her brain that are devoted to language are larger than the equivalent in the male.” The male brain is better at manual tracking tasks, hand-eye coordination and other spatial events. The female brain is better at context, communication and consensus. She processes more successfully through both left and right brain, adding an additional dimension to her outlook and perspective. In the Moir’s words, “She has a floodlight, he has a spotlight.” In an age of accelerated information movement, the need for innovation and the importance of personal connection, the “floodlight” perspective creates greater value.
Though women’s brain biology may give them a natural EQ performance advantage, research supports the components of EQ can be improved by both genders. Men are equally capable of developing stronger personal and social competence. And, as many organizations have found, as men are introduced to the bottom line impact of improved interpersonal connection, and are guided in understanding how to work on becoming more emotionally aware and connected, significant improvements in male performance and workplace results can happen.
Guy Larsen, President of All Seasons Pools and Spas in Orland Park, IL has noticed “women in his business more quickly connect to customers, spend more time and share more ideas.” He has also seen a change in his male employees because they have learned from their female peers and become more aware that customer connection drives results. His male employees are now building stronger relationships and getting better at listening as a means to be more productive and more successful.
Kristen Shingleton, President of New Focus HR, sees organizations with a high number of senior male leaders support cultures that are less open to women. These organizations are more hierarchical and more goal-structured. Customer relationships in these organizations are based more on price than on personality and friendship. She identified organizations that include more female leadership roles are more communicative, make more collaborative decisions and build friendships with both employees and customers. Customers in these organizations tend to be more open and more loyal.
CEO of Lowe’s, Robert Niblock, said in an interview with Training and Development Magazine, “Its one thing to have the knowledge and skill. Its another to engage the customers appropriately and be able to help them solve the problems they come in with.” This focus on a personalized response – for the employee or customer – is key to connection, and connection drives performance and loyalty.
As women were required to become more direct, non-emotional and more “male” to be successful in an industrial era, men must now become more emotionally intelligent and more right-brained. The right brain approach is more effective in today’s workplace because:
- Aligning the right employee in the right role in the workplace now requires understanding talents and emotions by getting to know employees as people.
- Understanding the right service response for customers require better listening, better questions and a stronger personal rapport.
- Getting employees to invent, innovate and respond to a changing world now requires an open dialog and requires employees to feel competent at what they do – personally valuable and important – to be willing to offer ideas and suggestions.
“What is getting people hired and advancing those already in organizations is the ‘people factor’,” says Debbie Benami-Rahm, President of DBR Career Services, Inc of Plantation, FL. “Technical expertise is important but not as important as the ability to create and work effectively in a connected workplace; the human factor tips the scale in hiring and promotions. Hiring managers want employees who know how to get things done – with others.” She sees both genders are able to compete when they focus providing value – and today, value is based on strong connection and interpersonal relationships.
British psychologist Chris McManus, author of Right Hand Left Hand sums it well and presents a solid and value-based gender approach, “However tempting it is to talk of right and left hemispheres [of the brain] in isolation, they are actually two half-brains, designed to work together as a smooth, single, integrated whole in one entire, complete brain. The left hemisphere knows how to handle logic, the right hemisphere knows about the world. Put the two together and one gets a powerful thinking machine. Use either on its own and the results can be bizarre or absurd.”
The brain is wisely designed for balance. Each side of the brain contributes its particular value to be resilient and relevant through the ages. Our workplaces should be also be designed for balance, taking the best of what each gender brings, to create sustainable value.
Women are naturally stronger right brain and EQ performers; both genders, however, have the ability of becoming proficient whole-brain thinkers. This is what today’s economy requires. And when the economy shifts again, we will need to reassess how to activate our thinking to maximize our impact. We will need to play to our strengths, consider both genders as equally valuable and work together as both sides of the brain have learned to work together. Wise workplaces create the greatest value when they allow each gender to contribute their best, most natural and highest impact value.