Creating an Inclusive Work Environment for Men and Women
We often hear the familiar axiom, “Great minds think alike.” When it comes to business success, however, Barbara Annis believes the more accurate phrase is, “Great minds think unalike.”
As founder and CEO of Gender Intelligence Group in New York City, Annis helps organizations use the unique qualities of both men and women to improve business results.
Rather than ignore gender differences, she encourages companies to understand and take advantage of the different but complementary attributes of men and women. It’s a concept she calls gender intelligence.
“Gender Intelligence was invented to talk about bringing men and women together to work and win,” Annis says. “Together, men and women can improve competitiveness, customer focus and bottom-line results through the blending of their different strengths.”
Neuroscience shows areas of the brain act differently depending on gender:
- The prefrontal cortex, the area of consequential thinking, is more connected in women, which allows them to think more about long-term consequences.
- The amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which controls the reaction to emotional situations, tends to be more calming in women.
- The insula, where the brain controls intuition, empathy, perception and self-awareness, is more active in women.
- The hippocampus, the brain’s center of emotion and memory, is more connected in women. This helps women remember details whereas men might only recall the gist of something.
When men and women understand these characteristics, they gain greater appreciation for each other’s behavior.
“Historically when we talked about gender equality, we thought it was about sameness and how to fit in,” Annis says. “It’s actually about differences.”
She says people enjoy learning about the science of gender because it helps them talk about the differences and appreciate the strengths of each way of thinking.
“Men find it incredibly freeing, and women find it incredibly validating,” Annis says.
Changing the Paradigm
Historically, many companies have focused on teaching women how to be like men. In contrast, gender intelligence encourages businesses to recognize and embrace the natural differences.
“Women have traditionally felt they had to be one of the men to fit in,” Annis says. “There were leadership programs where women would get aggressiveness or assertiveness training, but that’s based on a male leadership model that wasn’t made for women.”
She encourages companies to transform their cultures to welcome female leadership styles and eliminate advancement based on male-modeled competencies that tend to favor men over women.
Making a Difference
Annis says many companies have benefitted significantly from applying this knowledge.
Take, for example, the story of an accounting firm that spent millions in turnover costs because they weren’t retaining female employees. With Annis’ help, the company addressed the reasons why the women left: They didn’t feel valued and felt the company didn’t offer them future career progression.
Within three years of identifying the problem and taking steps to correct the gender blind spots, the turnover rate decreased from 27% to 10% and representation of women in senior management increased from 2% to 41%.
“It was a huge success,” Annis says. “One woman said, ‘I’ve been at their firm for 22 years, and I’ve never felt so good about working here. All the silos are gone. We really are colleagues working together.’”
Another success story was a telecom company that wasn’t concerned about having no women on its sales team. Then the manager attended a two-day gender intelligence workshop, and hired 10 women. Within a year, the newly diverse team grew sales from $500 million to $1.5 billion.
“I love that story because it happened in one year,” Annis says. “People think change is going to take forever, but it really doesn’t as long as you start in the right place.”