Newsletter | Mar/Apr 2015

Book Review of Gender Intelligence by Barbara Annis and Keith Merron

by Wendy Bertrand
Men architects often ask women, What Will You Bring to the Table?
Well now a woman can say I will bring not only my whole self, but my female brain. Barbara Annis and Keith Merron explain the gender intelligence tucked into the male and female brain…how they are different and equally valuable.

Neuroscientists have determined biological sex difference in brain structure, chemistry, and function. Not every female brain or male brain fall perfectly into the gender differences but the tendencies show that 80% are dramatically predictable and different in the ways men and women communicate, listen, solve problems, make decisions, handle emotions, deal with conflict and manage stress.

The authors go on to explain how 7 parts of the brain structure can be used to predict patterns of behavior. They begin with the corpus callosum, the thick bundle of nerves connecting the right and left hemispheres of our brains. It is larger in women than men, has a different shape and contains more nerve fibers that enable women’s thoughts to travel back and forth between the left side (linear, logical and serial thinking) to right side (basis of intuitive, holistic and creative thought). Men use their brains in sequence while women use their brains simultaneously jumping back and forth from right to left. That is why a man is more likely to see one idea and focus on it with few interruptions. He is less likely to tackle other points of view; his thinking is like on a railroad track, switching back and forth is not the norm. While the female brain uses the two sides of the brain in parallel, jumping back and forth considering all sorts of variables and consequences with ease.

Men often get inpatient with women’s approach and may say, “Can we just stick to the point, please? with some anger - while she is thinking of many variables.” “The size of the corpus callosum also enables her to decode the unspoken components of a meeting or exchange, such as body language, tone of voice and facial expression. This is described as context thinking, or an inclusive or interconnected approach.” Other parts discussed are the anterior cortex, insular cortex, hippocampus, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, cerebellum, as well as three hormonal elements.

Chapter after chapter emphasizes the importance of knowing the differences between male and female hard wired behavior because each brings valuable attributes that work well together. Also the erosion of groups that are predominately of men or women.

Annis & Merron claim that businesses that practice gender intelligence (have both men and women at every level, especially the top) do better financially. “Most persuasively for some, companies practicing gender intelligence with the highest financial performance in there important measures: return on equity, return on sales and return on invested capital (page 169). Some of this coming from performance due to neither men nor women feeling forced to fit into a gender behavior that doesn’t fit their comfort level. Being your authentic self has been much more difficult for women because of the male dominance of institutional leadership, rewards, expectations, some of which comes from the how the male brain is hard wired and has build the structures to reward the way they think.

Annis and Merron write that women often are not satisfied when they are pressured to act like a man, their authentic self suffers and they don’t feel comfortable after a while. Since leadership style that is rewarded is most often masculine, women are more aware of this discomfort, while many men, especially successful men at the top think everything is fine. It is much harder for men to have the “aha” moments needed to understand gender intelligence.

There is much to read. Part two gives some history of why gender intelligence is the next evolution, the natural appropriate step considering other contemporary vectors in society. Part three talks about how gender intelligence affects the organization. They describe the five steps for top management to get the message. They insist that conditions need to be created by top management where uniquely masculine and feminine strengths can be blended and utilized to their best effect. If not women don’t feel valued and leave in or before top levels.

There is lots about leadership. I would suggest that architects might suffer from what they term, enlightened denial, a resistance to talk through or even consider gender difference (page 113). The difference between sameness and equality comes up again and again. Often there is a gap between intention and behavior, or a fear of appearing politically incorrect and prejudiced. Many CEOs think they have it down pat and give themselves a 5 rating when they are really only at a one, the starting point.

Part four highlights conditions for success. I have not read all of that yet, but I am seeing my own female brain patterns, and patterns in the men I observe. I am hoping men will embrace some of all this without their competitive nature taking over. I truly believe working together is the best way and look forward to some interesting discussion.

The thrust here is not fairness, but making money which is a little disturbing because there are many areas where gender intelligence is needed where money is not the goal, like producing better architecture, taking care of the planet, care giving, social and political justice, drastic inequality and peace, to name a few that come to mind.

Open not only to OWA members but to anyone (male or female)interested in discussing this book should let Wendy Bertrand (415-648-2713) know as she will announce the Book Circle #11 date and place in April on the OWA website and to you if you call. If your firm would like to host this event please let her know. In the past we have had between 20 and 30 people

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