'Women are too emotional and soft – they lack the killer instinct. Women are not linear thinkers; they circle around the topic for too long before getting to the point.' I’ve heard all these sexist comments during my career, and others that are not fit for publication. I come from Australia which is the land of political incorrectness.
Here is one example from the edge. I was in a meeting years ago when a senior male manager said this about a woman not present: “She needs to grow a pair of balls.” My boss, an awesomely intelligent and strong female was there and she retorted instantly – deadpan, staring him in the eye: “And you should stop thinking about your genitals. Are we done with sexist stereotypes?” I swear this is true. I was the only person in room who laughed – very briefly. He never did it again. She handled the situation masterfully. No feigning offense; no protestations about sexism, no storming off to the Human Remains department. Just straight back at the sexist bully with calm conviction. It was beautiful to watch.
But here's the thing: The world is crying out for great leaders; authentic people who are the real deal at every level. Building great teams demands that we harness the power of diversity in every area – experience, skills, personality, cultural, and gender. But men and women are different in ways that are difficult to see. In so many areas, the female brain is super-woman superior to the myopic male counterpart. Before you throw rocks, let me share some interesting facts about the female brain.
- Women have significantly more connective tissue between the two hemispheres of the brain. This ‘bridge’ is the corpus collosum and, in computer-speak, it’s the bus between the two CPUs. Imagine the superior performance of a supercomputer where one configuration had substantially faster data exchange between CPUs.
- The female brain also distributes processing of key functions to more areas of the brain. Combined with the better connected corpus collosum, and you can see how women can naturally multi-task better than men.
- Women are also wired to communicate with stronger ‘verbal ability’. We’ve all seen the statistics and it’s true that women have an innate need to speak almost 3 times more than a men (20,000 versus 7,000 words per day).
- Women have more connector rods in their eyes. They literally have greater peripheral vision. If, as a man, you’ve ever thought that women have eyes in the back of their heads… you’re not imagining it. Women also have greater skin sensitivity and a superior sense of touch… not that there should be any of that going on in business!
- A women’s brain is better connected to emotions and women have a stronger natural sense of morality and justice.
- Women have a better memory for faces and pick-up on non-verbal cues more easily.
For more details about male and female brain wiring see my earlier post, Why Men Are Great Listeners. Men and women complement each other beautifully in family, business and all of life. Success is about valuing difference and leveraging strengths in the pursuit of a greater cause. Enjoy Mark Gungor explaining the differences.
Let's consider the gender strengths of women for leadership. The boy’s club boardroom is for companies heading for irrelevance. Did you know that in the lifetime of current baby-boomers, the average age of a Fortune 500 corporation in the USA has declined from approximately 80 years to just 18! Houston, we have a problem!
I’ve talked previously about the necessity to innovate and 'jack the Sigmoid curve or die', but sustained prosperity is really about leadership. Every enterprise therefore needs a balanced team of Level 5 leaders (Jim Collins) and this must include a proportional representation of women! Not for reasons of political correctness but for competitive advantage and to manage moral risk. Business is all about people; decisions are made emotionally and merely supported by logic. Staff, customers, shareholders and stakeholders are all driven emotionally. Make no mistake, emotional disconnection is a disease afflicting most enterprises.
If there are zero women in your leadership team or board… you have no chance of being your best as a team. But don't have a token quota female presence; instead balance the board and leadership with qualified women. Sheryl Sandberg is COO at Facebook and she highlights that only 5% of world leaders are female, just 13% in parliaments are women, and a mere 15% of board and CEO jobs are held by women. The highest representation of women in leadership roles is in the Not For Profit (NFP) sector with 20% of senior roles and board positions being held by them. Watch this TED video and hang-in there with the headset mic problems... they hand her a new one after a few minutes.
There remains a glass ceiling for women in the boardroom and it needs to be smashed by those who have the power – men who are willing to act on the strength of their convictions. The best person for the job should always be offered the role. In leadership and communication, women have distinct advantages, not disadvantages.
In modern sales there is a huge need for people to be multi-taskers in order to deal with the wall of white noise blasting at everyone online (apologies for being part of that). I believe that women have a huge genetic advantage in Social Selling 3.0. If you want anecdotal proof about male limitations, consider the reason that so few men die in their sleep... this is because the male brain cannot do two things at once. A man in one of my courses once retorted to that saying that female breasts are proof that men can actually think about two things at once… I replied by saying his example does not really count ;-)
Angela Merkel, Gemany's first female Chancellor is a beacon of leadership in Europe. Will Hillary run in the Presidential race? Just for your entertainment, the most famous political speech in recent Australian history hit the news worldwide and it was delivered by our first female Prime Minister. It was a bloody brilliant performance as she berated the male opposition leader accusing him of misogyny. Her accusations were without merit but all good politicians are magicians, masterful in the art of distraction. It was terribly caustic politics but she was masterful in her delivery.
Prime Minister Gillard took the high moral ground and it played well for a little while. But it was a façade – her values were appalling and her own political party replaced her as sitting Prime Minister with the very man, Kevin Rudd, that she had toppled in a game of thrones power play the previous year. This period in Australian politics was know as the Rudd–Gillard–Rudd government. Ironically, the man she attacked in her misogyny speech, Tony Abbott, won the next election to himself become Prime Minister.
The lesson in all of this? Prejudice and discrimination are realities no matter how deep they appear to be pushed beneath the surface. But don't seek to use gender to manipulate a situation. Yes, a woman usually needs to be better than the men she is competing with just to have any chance of 'a level playing field'. Step-up and lead despite the obstacles and find allies who are people of goodwill and positive values.
Now it's over to you. Who do you nominate as great female leaders today serving in academia, the military, business and politics? I'd like to create a role of honor – the beacons of global female leadership.
If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.
Main photo: The 2011 MHS Conference second annual “Building Stronger Female Physician Leaders” award winners and honorable mentions: (Front from left to right) Army Col. (Dr.) Kelly Murray, USPHS Cmdr. Meena Vythilingam, (Back from left to right) Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Leslie Knight, Navy Cmdr. (Dr.) Ashley Schroeder and Coast Guard Cmdr. (Dr.) Erica Schwartz, in National Harbor, Maryland, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011. Not pictured is Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Mary Klote, the junior Army winner, was not able to attend. (MHS photo by Mike Olliver)